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UNDP helps Mexican villagers face disaster and climate risks

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Cancun, Mexico - Forty participants at international climate talks last week in Cancun, Mexico, traveled to the site of a project supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that has helped as many as 900,000 people prepare to face the impact of disasters.

Representatives from governments, non-governmental organizations, academic institutes and the media taking part in the 16th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change toured the Yum Balam protected area, north of Cancun, where community-level projects have helped prepare the predominantly indigenous Mayan population for the impact of hurricanes, floods and post-disaster fires.

The Yum Balam Wild Flora and Fauna Protected Area, along the Atlantic Hurricane Belt in the state of Quintana Roo, is an area of high fire incidence with 989 fires recorded to 2010. In 2005, two category five hurricanes (Emily and Wilma) destroyed thousands of trees causing a fire emergency in 2006, which affected 50,000 hectares.

Since 2005, communities in this high-risk zone have received loans through the Global Environment Facility's Small Grants Programme and Mexico's National Commission of Protected Areas to fortify their livelihoods and plan in advance for future disasters.

Some 85 grants helped residents of Yum Balam to set up eco-tourism and diving tours, launch a line of beauty products made from local forestland plants, and create tools for forest fire prevention, firewall construction, and heightened community awareness and preparedness.

Among the preparedness measures taken was a climate risk analysis that included procedures for evacuation. As a result, the percentage of the population evacuated before hurricanes increased from below 50 percent to 97 percent between 2005 and 2007.

The approach has been replicated in other communities across the Yucatán peninsula and in the other Mexican states, including Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Puebla. Six other Latin American countries are also planning to launch similar projects in vulnerable areas.