By Professor Angelina Godoy, Director of the University of Washington Center for Human Rights
Greetings from Guatemala City!
Last week I was able to travel to San Marcos, where some of the communities hardest-hit by Tropical Storm Agatha are located, mostly along the Pacific Coast. We weren’t able to make it all the way to the communities in Ocós because during our visit, Guatemala was struck by the tail of tropical storm Alex, which caused a second wave of flooding and destruction in the same communities that were still struggling to recover from Tropical Storm Agatha in late May. Most of the bridges and roads to the southern coast were (and still are today) out of commission, and even in the more northern areas highway driving was treacherous in many places due to the frequent occurrence of mudslides and floods.
For the communities of Ocós, the one-two punch of Tropical Storms Agatha and Alex has been devastating. Some of the large plantations have continued to pump excess water off their properties into the rivers themselves, causing them to overflow their banks and inundate surrounding areas, where many poor peasants live and cultivate crops. Some of the emergency shelters set up after Agatha were flooded in the second storm, leaving some people with literally nowhere else to stay but in makeshift tents and shelters on the highway itself. You can see a picture of this in: http://www.prensalibre.com/noticias/Alex-causa-inundaciones_0_290370973.html Some communities are effectively isolated, such that even the trucks carrying relief supplies were unable to reach them in the days immediately following the second storm. The communities’ wells were contaminated by the flooding, leaving them without access to water, and most harvests are almost entirely destroyed, so food needs are also urgent. Sadly, it’s clear that their recovery will be arduous and long.
In any case, having been here and seen so many of the damages firsthand makes me all the more grateful for the collaboration of the Seattle International Foundation, and the greater Seattle community, in raising funds to support these communities in their time of great need. I’m proud to have been a part of this relief effort.