Article: Hurricane Stan Ravages Our Guatemalan Friends

Written by Cafe Campesino on Oct 1, 2005 in Article, NEWSLETTER |

The following is an update from Jeronimo Bollen from Manos Campesinas in Guatemala on the devastation caused by Hurricane Stan:

The damage done all over the country by hurricane Stan still hasn’t been estimated. However, the general overview is pretty clear. The most affected areas were on the Pacific coast where the Ministry of Agriculture estimates that flooding destroyed 50% and 80% of the region’s crops; the Western Highlands, where the landslides in Panabaj and Tacaná, among others, took place; and some areas in the southeast of the country that were hit with severe flooding. The rest of the country has experienced minor problems, basically the loss of electricity, lack of communication (phone and mobile), and problems with the supply of food, drinking water and gasoline.

Officially, the number of deaths stands at 562, but it is known that in several landslides hundreds of people were killed. Unofficial estimates range from about 600 to more than 2,000 persons in the areas affected by the landslides. It will take several more weeks for a clearer picture of the death toll. In the Panabaj landslide (Santiago Atitl‡n, Sololá), several hundred people were buried under a layer of mud 5 meters thick; today, the authorities officially left the area and declared it a cemetery. It will be never known exactly how many people died there. At the other side of Lake Atitlán, in a village called San Marcos La Laguna, about 80% of the houses disappeared due to the flooding by a nearby river. Although there were no deaths in this place, people are desperate for help because they haven’t had access to food and drinking water for several days now, as the place is completely isolated from the rest of the area.

In Tacaná (department of San Marcos), where a landslide occurred that buried over 100 people, there hasn’t been any governmental aid until now. The roads are inaccessible and bringing aid by air is very difficult due to bad weather.

According to the Ministry of Communications, more than 1,400 kilometers of highroads have been damaged, as well as 5,600 kilometers of dirt roads. Moreover, about 10,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed. However, those are preliminary assessments, because until now it has been impossible to travel to many of the affected areas because they are so isolated and remote places – it is likely that the damage in these places is considerable.

The major problem at the moment is disease and the associated risk of epidemics. Many people are suffering from intestinal infections, the flue, pneumonia and dermatologic diseases.

Regarding the impact of Hurricane Stan on our producer partners at Apecaform, with whom we have been working for the past four years, Manos Campesinas reports:

Because the area in which Apecaform is located (county of Tajumulco, department of San Marcos) is so large, we haven’t been able to communicate with all of the communities that are affiliated with Apecaform. Of the 17 communities, we know that 3 of them have survived the storm without any major problems. Some landslides occurred, but they didn’t harm houses or people. Two other communities suffered heavy landslides; there weren’t any casualties, but a first estimation indicates that probably some 30% of the coffee fields have disappeared. From the other 12 communities we haven’t had any news. Therefore we still fear that some of the areas have been damaged seriously, though we cannot confirm this. They haven’t had any aid from the government or any other institution.

In general, apart from the situation in Santiago Atitl‡n, we think that the majority of Manos Campesinas’ members managed to survive Hurricane Stan without any major casualties. However, we still cannot go to many of the communities, which means that we don’t have very exact information from those places, including information about possible damage to the coffee fields. We fear that in several places, like in Apecaform, the communities weren’t hit that badly, but possibly the coffee fields in the mountains were, which presents another challenge as the peoples’ primary source of income will have been damaged.

Because until now we haven’t been able to move out of Quetzaltenango, as the majority of the access roads are obstructed, we are working on identifying how Manos Campesinas can help. Some of the questions we are asking include: how will we be able to reconstruct the infrastructure, the houses, etc.? How seriously have the coffee fields been hit and what can be done to reactivate them?

The harvest is about to begin, which means we will have to attend to many different situations: first, of course is providing relief where needed and then assisting with the reconstruction of the infrastructure of the production areas, and finally, the work of the harvest and export, to generate income for the producer families that are associated with Manos Campesinas.

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