Quake damage in Juchitán. Quake damage in Juchitán.

120,000 pesos in aid means downsizing

For one earthquake victim, his new house will be one-third the size of what he had

Rebuilding thousands of homes after last month’s two devastating earthquakes was never going to be easy, but adding to the difficulty is that some victims are discovering that the financial aid offered by the federal government doesn’t go very far.


Last month the government announced that up to 120,000 pesos (US $6,250) would be available to people whose homes were completely destroyed in either the September 7 or September 19 quake.

But with that amount, residents of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca will only be able to build a small 40-square-meter house, according to a member of a local civil engineering organization.

One of the victims is Juchitán resident Manuel Carrasco who, despite having received no government aid yet, has already started working on his new home.

But living in such a small house will be a big change from the 120-square-meter, three-bedroom home he shared with his wife and daughter before it collapsed on September 7.

“My house was an inheritance from my grandparents, it was valued at 700,000 pesos (US $36,500). Today it’s only rubble and the worst thing is that I’ll never be able to build something like what I lost,” he told the newspaper Milenio.

According to advice he’s received, he’ll need to find a further 50,000 pesos above and beyond the aid amount for the installation of electrical wiring, a new wastewater drainage system and a cistern, Carrasco said.


Gabriel Cervantes of the Juchitán Civil Engineers Association, who is working on Carrasco’s new home and has offered free advice to thousands of earthquake victims, said the aid is inadequate.

“It’s barely enough for them to build a room with minimal measurements and without finishings such as plastering, floor tiles and cement finishing, and that’s without even thinking about a tiled roof like most of these houses had,” Cervantes said.

He added that the insufficient budget not only meant that people would have to live in a confined space but also that homes couldn’t be built to guidelines to ensure they can adequately resist seismic activity. The specific materials needed and a more solid foundation would only raise the cost further, he said.

Using a list supplied by Cervantes, Milenio checked the prices of the building materials required for a 40 square-meter home and came up with a cost of just under 80,000 pesos.

Not included are labor costs, which according to a builder with 30 years of experience would add a further 48,000 pesos to the total cost. Together, they exceed the maximum aid available, meaning that people would have to use their own funds or find another alternative.

Many families will be left living in cramped conditions inferior to their previous dwellings.

For one victim whose home is still standing but suffered serious structural damage, the preferable option is to spend his savings and the little he will receive from the government to reinforce the walls of the house rather than knocking it down and starting over.

“I’m not going to throw away my wealth, it would be like giving up meat for beans,” Rafael Ruiz said.

“This house is valued at 500,000 pesos, not 120,000. It’s a beautiful, big house. I’m not going to exchange it for a hovel . . . .”

Source: Milenio (sp)

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  • Pete Larson

    Apparently not many people had homeowners’ insurance? That would help a lot.

    • T. M. Sabin

      Have you bothered to check into how expensive home owners’ insurance is in Mexico, and how difficult it is to obtain “All Risk” insurance, which covers natural disasters? Especially for low-income families? Most Mexican insurance companies don’t even provide such coverage in high-risk areas like seismic activity zones and/or coastal areas. Clearly, you haven’t checked into it, to make such a blithe comment.

      • My home has 1,000,000 pesos of coverage (Banco Imbursa), including quake damage, in an earthquake zone (that’s pretty much all of Mexico, of course). Current yearly premium is $2,600 pesos (about $136 U.S.), which I do not find expensive. What’s pricey, of course, is relative.

        I don’t think Pete’s comment was blithe at all.

        • T. M. Sabin

          Thaanks for giving a specific quote, Felipe, because that puts things in a better perspective. For many people with at least a moderate income, that would not be beyond their reach. But as you said, “pricey… is relative”. I’m an expat getting by frugally on $422 USD in SSA a month, something I could never do in the US. I also happen to enjoy living in Mexico, which is why I’ve done so for almost 30 years. But I would be hard-pressed to come up with a lump sum payment of $2,600 pesos. (I also rent, because I can’t afford to buy.) I’ve been in the area hardest hit by this last earthquake. Most are subsistance farmers. Those who are employed mostly work for very low wages, averaging around $3 USD a day. They would also be hard-pressed to come up with those home-owners’ annual insurance payments. When I said Pete’s comment was blithe, I meant because he assumes home owners’ insurance would be easily obtained for most, therefore logical. It was not meant to insult his intelligence, only that I feel he should inform himself before making such a statement..

          • Pete Larson

            Nice try, T.M., but I did have a frame of reference—my own insurance policy. My comment was merely a hunch based on the reports I had read. It was not a condemnation and as Mr. Zapata said it was not blithe. Apology accepted.

      • Pete Larson

        It was a question, not a statement—no need to get your panties in a twist. In Mazatlan where I live, homeowners insurance is available at reasonable rates. Mine is about $200/yr. U.S. I feel for the folks who can’t get affordable insurance. They’re in a world of hurt, unfortunately.