Civil defense and disaster relief in rural areas in not one of the functions commonly assigned to municipal-level government. It is generally the responsibility of state and federal offices to deal with emergency management. Yet, there is a strong demand at the municipal level, where citizens can interact most directly with their government representatives. After four hurricanes and a number of catastrophic tropical storms that caused nearly annual flooding over the past twenty years, the citizens of villages surrounding the state capital of Campeche demanded that city officials set aside resources to look after the interests of civilians affected by these disasters.
The Program of Civil Protection for rural residents affected by floodings and other natural disasters in the municipality of Campeche is based on two axes of operation: first, community participation through local Civil Defense Committees, and second, decentralized operation, through participation of auxiliary authorities. By establishing a strategy of joint governmental and non-governmental action, the Program uses municipal finances and the technical, material, and social resources of Campeche’s civil society to put into practice plans for emergency relief decided by the City Council. By decentralizing and devolving Council actions, the city’s leadership has extended its influence into rural, isolated regions, and has also been able to give citizens a sense of ownership of the Program.
This Program guarantees protection of citizens at the local level in rural communities who may be particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. By drawing on local resources, the Program is able to respond more quickly and thoroughly to damage in the aftermath of a natural disaster. At the same time, the municipality has been able to undertake public works projects in cooperation with civil organizations, using the social and technical expertise available in the community to implement the City Council’s plans as efficiently as possible. The authorities have taken a supportive stance regarding these local communities that is particularly notable given that Campeche is largely urban.
A key factor for the success of this program is the direct participation of the community: the inhabitants of the rural regions present their own assessment of the greatest risks to their localities and identify the safest zones in their communities. Civil leaders organize the population to respond to threats of hurricanes. They have also allotted resources to build their own shelters and clinics according to the design guidelines established by the municipality. By radically decentralizing resource distribution and public works construction, the Program’s innovators have been able to build a network for allocating public funds without hierarchies or clientelist relationships, thus bypassing many of the opportunities for corruption that exist in more traditional public works contracts between the government and the private sector.