Hurricane Eta and the importance of local responses

Hurricane Eta reached Central America earlier this month and caused significant damage across the region in terms of flooding, landslides and huge crop destruction.

Sofía Menchú wrote in Reuters about the effects on the Guatemalan Mayan indigenous community of Chicuz, a hamlet three hours on foot from Queja village. Queja itself suffered significantly.

The storm caused devastation from Panama to Mexico and although the centre of the storm never touched Guatemala, the precarious locations of poor Mayan villages perched on remote lush mountainsides, susceptible to landslides, meant there was always a risk of significant damage.

You can read more here, with photographs, and there are several other pieces, by Sofía, in the Reuters website containing many photos.

A subsequent piece was written, also by Sofía, here, relating to the decision to end the rescue operation in Queja including a picture of the significant damage caused.

Sandra Cuffe wrote in The New Humanitarian about local people, being the first responders, leading their own response to the tragedy. Despite the scale of the disaster, a week later, many communities were still left to fend for themselves.

Spontaneous initiatives provided a lot of the immediate support to rural areas and people long marginalised by the central authorities: from mutual aid in the rural Indigenous villages of Nebaj to women’s movements in Guatemala City.

The nature of the state in Guatemala means that remote communities receive very little support in times of need and, indeed, the state brings very little good to people’s lives the further from the capital.

The initial response, rescue and support efforts in Nebaj, as in other rural parts of the country, were carried out by locals: Ixil villagers and townspeople.

You can read Sandra’s piece here, with photos and links.

The article speaks of how local communities, being the first responders, will respond before the national bodies. This is historically, rarely recognised within the international humanitarian sector though initiatives like the Grand Bargain are shining a light on the strengths at the local level and on seeing ways to build greater capacity at this level. There is a way to go as governments, and large international aid players seek to keep themselves positioned at the forefront of any responses.

Some data from CONRED, The National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction, on what was distributed (dated 11th November):

  • Family Rations: 2,570
  • Drinking Water, 350 ml bags: 22,887
  • Personal Hygiene Kits: 2,197
  • Cooking Kits: 432
  • Fortified Atol (a nutritious corn-based drink): 47,625
  • Cold Rations: 2,832
  • Blanket-type Ponchos: 3,854
  • Cleaning Kits: 576
  • Sanitary Towels: 2,010
  • Nappies: 6,190
  • Water Purifiers: 72

The following was made known in the Situation Report published by UNOCHA, the UN humanitarian agency, on the 9th November, in the ReliefWeb website:

Guatemala also continues to deal with the fallout from Eta in 18 of its 22 departments, mostly concentrated in Izabal (80,800 affected people) , Alta Verapaz (78,000 affected people), Huehuetenango (25,200 affected people), Chiquimula (19,240 affected people), Quiché (14,100 affected people) and Petén (10,300 affected people).

Humanitarian teams in Guatemala continue to support evaluations of health centres and delivering food supplies to cut off communities.

There is particular concern over extensive damages to agriculture, livestock and rural livelihoods, which stand to worsen existing food insecurity.

At the beginning of November, the UN published a Food Insecurity Situation Report for Guatemala, for the period November 2020 to March 2021, where it spoke of 3.7 million people facing high levels of acute food insecurity, but would have been expected to reduce in the following months as crops were harvested. The destruction of Eta will greatly hamper this and will require a new forecast as regards Food Insecurity in particular Departments Guatemala.

The future looks grim for a considerable number of communities and families in the coming months.

Categories: Environment, Guatemala, Indigenous peoples, Land, Natural Disaster, Poverty

Tags: , , , , ,

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