Monday, February 10, 2014

Participatory GIS in Veracruz, Mexico

For those of us bound to the heart of Texas, or any non-coastal part of the world for that matter, hurricanes probably won’t make the list of natural hazards to be anxious about.  For those situated along the coast of Veracruz, however, there is as much as a 60%-likelihood that a hurricane forming in the North Atlantic will impact their community.

Researchers from the Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and Environment at The University of Oxford and the Department of Political Science at the University of Guelph utilized participatory GIS to improve Mexico's hurricane risk policy, which is currently lacking in analytical and financial resources needed to thwart household vulnerabilities.  Participatory GIS is a practice that allows subjects to take up essential geographic tools and techniques towards the creation of maps and models.  Once created, these resources can make locals critical participants in the creation and implementation of government agendas.   As is the case in Veracruz, community members in need of GIS are often the least equipped, yet the most impacted by political decisions and so their input is vital to the policy making process. 

The analytic method in this case study is referred to as a Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (VCA) grounded in a three-step analytical process focusing on:

(i) distributional patterns of household vulnerability, (ii) the impact of different risks on overall vulnerability, and (iii) what steps individuals, communities and local governments are ready to take to reduce disaster risks.

These criteria are specific to hurricane risk evaluation, but can vary depending on the context.  The authors emphasize, "losses resulting from hurricanes have increased over the last 20 years despite government interventions and NGO projects" (Krishnamurthy et al, 143).   This discrepancy is a result of a highly centralized Mexican government where hurricane policy is operated through the Ministry of Civil Protection which simply does not have access to local knowledge necessary to inform how policy could truly benefit residents along the coast of Veracruz.  As residents identified factors such as the existence or lack of safe-shelter locations, the condition of evacuation routes, most impacted crops, etc. a rift in disaster risk assessment between communities and policy makers manifested itself. 

While certain indicators were common to both official and citizen evaluations - long term environmental change heightening the impact of community vulnerability - community members ranked social ties and localized knowledge of the environment as most integral to withstanding hurricane impacts.  Ideally, as participatory GIS becomes more common trends such as this may improve ties between disconnected local and federal representatives; mapping out an informed and useful process for risk analysis and policy making. 

Krishnamurthy, P. Krishna, Fisher, Joshua B., & Johnson, Craig.  (2011,February).  Mainstream local perceptions of hurricane risk into policy making: A case study of community GIS in Mexico.  Global Environmental Change, 21(1), 143-153.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what effect the rift between the communities and policy makers of hurricane evacuation plans had on the evacuation plan itself. It would be interesting to compare Mexico's centralized authority and the MCP's relationship to local authorities in particular with China's centralized-planning authorities (see post on Shenzhen) to illustrate the differences in communication and reporting procedures, and to suggest concrete steps for improving ties between the two organizations to create better environmental policy for the citizens of Veracruz.