By Anahi Parra
CHALCO, MEXICO — Last Friday at 1:30 in the morning, an unexpected roar woke hundreds of families in a section of Mexico City known as Chalco. After a few seconds, the horror of the roar soon registered with the sleepy residents who saw their houses being flooded by sewage.
It was at that time that one of the dams that holds La CompaÃ±Ãa Canal broke in a matter of minutes, covering the MÃ©xico-Puebla highway with the filthy waters. Unfortunately, this is a tragedy that happens every year.
However, this time there’s a difference. The level of sewage has reached almost 6 ft., and it seems an almost impossible task to return it to its normal level.
Right now, sewage covers the streets of the whole town. Families sit on the roofs of their flooded houses, watching a parade of floating fridges and sofas drifting alongside sunken cars.
Residents watch helplessly as Chalco streets flood with sewage.
To make matters worse, the isolated community has no exit since the main highway is also flooded. The little amount of help that has arrived so far has not been enough to appease the victims’ desperation — during the day there are fights between the police and firemen over who can be rescued first, or who can get more drinkable water; at night, residents are afraid of looting and robbery.
Though the most painful part of the situation that the people from Chalco are currently facing is linked to the abundant rains that fell last week, it is also a direct consequence of three vices that seem to characterize governments in our times: irresponsibility, indifference and negligence.
In this case, the National Commission of Waters (Conagua) was in charge of investing money in maintaining and repairing the dam to prevent such a disaster. After the tragedy, both Conagua and the Mexican government seem to focus only on blaming each other for the problem, arguing that one or the other knew about the potential for such a problem to happen.
Whoever had the information, it was their responsibility to at least evacuate the area, giving enough time to the people to save whatever was of value to them.
Chalco is an impoverished area founded around the late 70’s by several farming families, many of them from indigenous origins. They built their homes on their own. The settlement grew bigger over the last thirty years, characterized by the lack of basic services such as water and electricity.
Nowadays, Chalco is considered part of Mexico City’s metropolitan area, where suffering from marginalization, drug dealing, and gang activities are ignored by the authorities — except during election season.
Even though the proportions of the tragedy have already compelled the federal government to officially declare an emergency in Chalco, it will take the rest of the week to get back to a “normal” situation.
Meanwhile, the victims search their homes to see if they can rescue some of their belongings. Watching the scenes on television and seeing the pictures in the newspapers, one wonders if this would have happened to a rich neighborhood if the authorities would have let the same thing happen.
One also can’t help but wonder if the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti would have had the same disastrous consequences if it had happened in a richer country, with less corruption and more infrastructure.
It is true that an earthquake and copious rains are natural events, but it is the responsibility of human beings to lessen those effects on people’s lives.
This time I choose to be naÃ¯ve, and think that what happened in Chalco will be a lesson for the times coming….
Learn more about Anahi
AnahÃ Parra is a passionate lover of Mexico City, where she was born and brought up about three decades ago.
She enjoys walking around to take photographs, eating delicious food, and exploring the night in the city.
She finished a BA in History and worked as a research assistant for some years. However, she has always been interested in the “real life” and now she writes a blog Macha Mexico which is about queer events and characters in Mexico City.
Sometimes, you can find her having an espresso at one of the many old little cafes that are spread out in the so-called biggest city of the world.