LIFESAVER in Mexico
With Tropical Storm Manuel ravaging most of Western Mexico, LIFESAVER was asked for to assist by the Regional Government of Guerrero and by DIF (The National System for Integral Family Development (Spanish: Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia; SNDIF or DIF).
Coyuca de Benítez is a city and seat of the municipality of Coyuca de Benítez, in the state of Guerrero, south-western Mexico and it was here that we were asked to concentrate our efforts. The following is a brief report of my time there.
Acapulco, Mexico 25-09-2013
I flew into Acapulco on the delayed 18:30 AeroMexico flight. As I disembarked, two things hit me. First was the temperature increase from the most agreeable 19C of Mexico City to the humid, oppressive 32C here in Acapulco; next were my senses that were invaded by a thick wall of damp air surging up my nostrils!
As we walked down the concourse towards baggage reclaim, the air became thicker, the stench more pungent. A tidemark soiled the wall six feet from the floor, graffiti, grafted defiantly by tropical storm Manuel. Not six days ago the airport would have resembled a scene from Water World. This had certainly been a most horrific flood.
Traveling to the house where we were to stay the night, even in the dark the devastation was clear to see. A recently renovated multi million pound golf course had all but completely been returned to nature. The large Costco in Acapulco was broadsided and then looted by the desperate. Tropical Storm Manuel had truly overwhelmed.
My bed for the night was in a villa nestled high in the hills above Acapulco Bay. The view from the terrace, the twinkling lights shimmering across the waters of the bay cloaked the destruction that lay below. A metaphor, an ode I thought to the many not directly affected by floods, all seems rosy, almost normal.
We were up early to meet with 3 members of the regional congress and a media crew before setting out to the small town of Coyuca De Benitez. This is a satellite image of what the region was like before the floods:
This is the scene following the tropical storm. Everything had been flushed away.
The bridge in the satellite imagery now lies like a snapped lollypop stick, a broken symbol, bowed in defeat to the mighty Manuel. Route 200, the main western highway lays impotent, leaving rescue efforts severally hampered.
When we entered the community’s in the outlying reaches of Coyuca De Benitez, desperation was etched hard on the faces of the people. They began to encircle the Regional President demanding more help and assistance. Water was the main theme, ‘we need drinking water,’ one woman shouted, ‘we had some last week but it is all gone, help us please.’
The President, an assured and deft political operator listened with care and purpose. He introduced Pedro, and myself. Pedro is our representative in Mexico. Pedro explained that we were here today to donate our LIFESAVER jerrycans to help the community.
After explaining briefly how the LIFESAVER system worked, the President declared the ‘Englishman with the soft stomach’ was now going to drink water directly from the Zunpango river! They laughed and I set off to the riverbank.
The soil and sand at the edge of the river was still heavily aerated and soft under foot. With some dramatic affect I plunged the LIFESAVER jerrycan into the murky brown waters of the fast flowing river. It filled with speed and I brought it back up to the edge where a large crowd that had followed me to the edge of the river had formed.
Pedro explained to the crowd, ‘simply fill, pump and drink!’ And with that I gave the LIFESAVER jerrycan a few pumps, turned the tap, and took a large drink. The reveal! Silence turned to applause and all the kids clamored to take a gulp.
After a few minutes a weather beaten old lady pushed to the front, her red bowl outstretched. She stooped down to collect the fresh clean water that was streaming from the tap.
The lady drank it all and then looked at me and smiled. That was my moment - a proud moment; an acknowledgement of deep gratitude, through expression alone that we at LIFESAVER had made the crucial difference to these people.
The reporters clamored to get to the Regional President for the story of how he had managed to get this amazing technology to his region so quickly. He was proud and thankful of the response LIFESAVER had achieved.
Pedro our distributor explained to the media our work and collaboration with DIF, ensuring the message to all those listening, was that Mexico needs to be better prepared next time and every time a natural disaster strikes, and they can do that with the support of LIFESAVER.
When we left, the Presidents wife spoke to me: ‘Thank you, thank you, you have helped more than you could possibly know.’