Here’s What An 8.2 Magnitude Earthquake Taught Us About Reconstruction

Isadora and her team helped families repair their homes and preserve their heritage after one of Mexico’s most powerful earthquakes. Now, she shares what they learned about reconstructing communities.


When an 8.2 magnitude quake hit southern Mexico in 2017, Cooperación Comunitaria A.C. used traditional construction systems to help rebuild entire communities and the environment. People around the world fueled their holistic approach through GlobalGiving’s Mexico Earthquake Relief Fund. Executive Director Isadora Hastings reflects on Cooperación Comunitaria’s work in the communities hit by Mexico’s earthquakes—before and after.

    We are proud of what we learned in four years after the Mexico earthquakes on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec:

    1. Go where no one has gone.

    In a chaotic reconstruction process, with governments and companies participating, Cooperación Comunitaria has been able to bring about a comprehensive and social reconstruction. We attend to the needs neglected by other forms of support, such as productive spaces for women in the most marginalized communities. Nothing would have been possible without the direct participation of people in the design, planning, and construction.

    2. Reconstruct life with the house.

    The house, as well as any private or community space, has to be completely adapted to the local and family context. It has to be owned by the people and part of a reconstruction of their ways of life—not only of their physical spaces. During the past four years, we have worked in 10 different communities, belonging to eight municipalities, and we have never repeated a prototype. Although all the buildings were made with the same system, called “bajareque,” we learned to adapt it to the specific physical and cultural conditions of each place and family, even in the same community. That is why we don’t see a kitchen, an oven, or a house that is the same as another.

    3. Include everyone in the process.

    Reconstruction is a collective process, where the group acts as one, recovering the community’s traditional practice of mutual support, called “tequio.” Everyone—men, women, children, and elders—have a relevant role, providing labor, food, or other skills and services. Thanks to that cooperation, the tequios are opportunities to teach and swap knowledge, and they are full of worthwhile learnings.

    4. Save heritage + traditional systems.

    In Oaxaca, we encountered three different local construction systems and, together with the families, we reinforced them against earthquakes and strong winds. These local systems have developed over the centuries, according to the geological, climatic, and cultural characteristics of each place. The modern prejudice against local natural materials, as well as the commercial promotion of industrialized housing, caused us to lose traditional construction knowledge. But it is an important part of Mexico’s heritage. Thanks to the exchange of knowledge, it is possible to recover these systems and use them to improve their resistance to any type of natural event. In Oaxaca, we were able to save 58 traditional houses from demolition, preserving the family’s heritage.

    5. Commit to construction without destruction.

    Using local materials, we can reduce the ecological footprint as well as the energy waste, during construction and throughout the dwelling life, optimizing its thermal performance. Together with the National University of Mexico, we have compared the thermal inertia of various construction systems, including houses built by private companies with industrial materials, and demonstrated the efficiency of natural materials. In addition, we have reduced landfill pollution by reusing construction materials from collapsed houses.

Although GlobalGiving’s Mexico Earthquake Relief Fund is now closed, Cooperación Comunitaria’s social reconstruction efforts will continue. And you can help them.

Support Cooperación Comunitaria’s mission to rebuild communities.


Featured Photo: Rebuilding communities affected by 8.2 earthquake by Cooperación Comunitaria A.C.

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