November 9, 2007
Flooding in the state of Tabasco, in southeast Mexico, last week has seriously affected 328,500 people, according to the latest official figures. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sent a team to evaluate the situation and is now providing assistance in two areas.
Ruptured dykes followed the torrential rain of October 29, submerging inhabitants of Tabasco under an average of 2 meters (6 and a half feet) of water, up to 4 meters (13 feet) in lower-lying areas.
Given the scale of the floods, MSF sent a team of doctors and logisticians to evaluate the situation and provide assistance, if needed, to the populations affected by this powerful natural disaster. On November 5, a five-person team arrived in the capital city of Villahermosa and went immediately to work, focusing specifically on more isolated areas.
The populations of Tabasco and its neighboring state Chiapas had fled the most affected areas to take refuge in reception centers—some set up by the U.S. Army and others improvised locally. The region around Villahermosa was particularly hard hit, with 75,000 persons forced to abandon their homes. Others, fearing looting, stayed put and have found themselves isolated.
A large-scale national response
The regional and federal governments' response, including the mobilization of the armed forces, civil protection, and the Mexican Red Cross proved rapid and proportionate to the needs of Villahermosa. Nonetheless, the rural areas around the city received little or no aid. Some of these areas were difficult to access for days, making the delivery of drinking water and food complicated. Part of the population has still not received any assistance.
Consultations and distributions in isolated areas
MSF has focused particularly on the city of Nacajuca, where distribution of hygiene kits, which include soap, jerry cans for water, and other items, have started for some 3,000 families. A mobile medical team is also offering consultations in the area.
An additional MSF team is working in the region of Frontera, northeast of Villahermosa. This swampy area, inhabited by around 15,000 people and mainly consisting of fishing communities, is still partially inaccessible by road. The team has evaluated the needs of these cut-off communities by boat, and began medical consultations today.
An evaluation of the hardest hit areas also has been carried out in the neighboring state of Chiapas, where a landslide caused six deaths. The rapid drop in water levels, due to the mountainous terrain of the region, explains why it has not been as badly affected as its neighbor Tabasco, which forms a natural hydraulic basin for the run-off from Chiapas. This evaluation did not expose any needs requiring assistance from MSF.
Dropping water levels and the health risks
In Tabasco, the gradual drop of water levels is exposing the extent of the damage. Suspect cases of diarrhea have been reported over the last few days. In addition, the proliferation of mosquitoes in pools of stagnant water lead to fears of a resurgence in malaria cases during the weeks to come. As dengue fever is endemic in the area, the health authorities have set up the necessary surveillance system. The MSF teams are staying alert to these risks, maintaining an epidemiological watch over the situation, and keeping themselves ready to deal with such an eventuality.
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)