Why is Mexico sparsely populated

Earthquake in Mexico

More than 50 magnitude 7.0 earthquakes have struck Mexico since historical records began. Most of the time, the number of fatalities was kept within narrow limits, as sparsely populated areas were affected.

23rd June: A severe earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 shook southern Mexico. The quake could also be clearly felt in the capital Mexico City, which is more than 700 kilometers away. Some people were probably killed. Several hundred buildings around the cities of Crucecita and Oaxaca de Juárez were damaged.

Tectonic causes

While Mexico is part of the North American continental plate, the Cocos plate begins on the Pacific coast. Here the heavy coconut plate slowly slides under the continental mass. This process creates intense earthquakes along the Mexican coastal region.

In contrast, the tectonic conditions around the Caribbean plate (on which the island of Hispaniola is located) are less relevant for Mexico. Therefore, the Caribbean coast is hardly at risk of earthquakes.

Selected historical earthquakes

On this map, too, most of the earthquakes are along the Pacific coast. Only a small selection of the quakes is shown. However, this does not change the basic distribution pattern.

Earthquake Map of Mexico:

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A: "Temblores de San Sixto" (March 28, 1786) - magnitude 8.6
B: Guerrero State Coast (April 7, 1845) - magnitude 8.0
C: Jalisco (June 18, 1932) - magnitude 8.1
D: Orizaba / Veracruz (August 28, 1973) - magnitude 7.0
E: Michoacán (September 19, 1985) - magnitude 8.1
Q: Pijijiapan (September 8, 2017) - magnitude 8.1
G: Oaxaca (June 23, 2020) - magnitude 7.5

Particularly severe tremors

Hardly any personal injuries are known of the numerous violent earthquakes that hit Mexico in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the time of the very strong quake of 1786 (Mark A on the map) Mexico had a population of five million at most. In the past few decades, however, the population has grown rapidly (to more than 100 million) - and with it the number of people who are potentially at risk of earthquakes.

In the Mexican Veracruz Province around 1,000 people died in 1973. The province is located - a little atypical - inland away from the coasts. By far the largest disaster to date hit the greater area of, among others, in 1985 Mexico City (Mark E). The epicenter was on the Pacific coast of the state of Michoacán, but had an impact over a wide area. The estimates of the fatalities vary between 10,000 and 40,000.

In view of the high density of buildings, combined with the often poor building fabric, it is to be feared that catastrophic earthquakes in Mexico will increase.