15 JUNE 1998. MEXICO: FIRE Island Press reports: "After going through the hottest and driest spring in the last 90 years, Mexico is suffering an unprecedented spate of forest fires. An estimated 11,000 fires have destroyed upwards of 750,000 acres. Smoke from these fires has drifted north, prompting health alerts as far north as Kansas. In Mexico City, Mayor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas has ordered environmental emergency measures. Citizens have been urged to stay indoors as much as possible and to sleep with their windows shut to prevent contaminants from entering homes. According to the Associated Press, the only reliable statistics available in Mexico City on the effects of the increases in airborne particulates and ozone are the number of medical consultations at public hospitals: "Between May 22 and May 26, the (Mexican) National System of Disease Monitoring .. . detected an increase of 26.9 percent in the demand for consultations as a result of problems associated with air pollution.'' Aside from the effects that the smoke is having on human health in Mexico and Texas, the fires are also destroying large portions of Mexico's "Cloud Forests". An estimated area of 170,000 acres of the Lacandon Forest, Las Chimalapas, and El Ocote have been destroyed by fire. These areas represent the world's most northerly tropical rainforest and are located in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca where a large proportion of the population are dependent on the land for their subsistence. Criticism has been leveled at the Mexican government for failing to prepare for this predicable situation. Homero Aridjis, a Mexico City reporter, stated that "if the fires have broken all previous records this year, we also have to say that the incompetence of government officials has broken all previous records. While we're here choking on smoke and the rain forests are burning down, they're just waiting for Godot, waiting for the rains to come. Despite this heated internal criticism many in the international community have sympathized with the Mexican government, pointing to the severity of the drought and the difficulties experienced in trying to prevent the use of fire for land clearing in a region where this is traditional. One of the few positive aspects of this situation is the cooperation of the Mexican and US governments in fighting fires. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has sent enough shovels, protective gear and chain saws to equip 3,000 firefighters as part of a $5 million aid package. Along with this material aid the US has sent more than 50 fire fighting specialists to coordinate the efforts of the 200,000 Mexican soldiers fighting the fires; air crane helicopters to drop water on the fires; and infra-red navigation equipment to assist in navigation through dense smoke."-- Island press, Eco-Compass http://www.islandpress.org.

Back to The 1997 El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO 97-98)