How a Flood-Prone Community Built Safer Streets for Vulnerable Families

By Avelene Chuang, Diplomatic Fellow at PADF. She works with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of China (Taiwan). Before joining PADF, she served as a desk officer on Thailand and Myanmar affairs at the ministry. At PADF, she is especially focused on supporting projects sponsored by Taiwan.

A Guatemalan community is celebrating something that's made the whole community safer: a paved road and walkway.

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El Campanero is a low-income community in Mixco, Guatemala that is highly vulnerable to flooding and landslides. Instead of properly draining away, torrential rains erode the community’s steep muddy paths and create unsafe walking and transportation conditions for those who live along the steep embankments, including the elderly, young children, people with disabilities, and disadvantaged families. For thousands of Guatemalans living in poor and marginalized communities like El Campanero, the rainy season poses a serious danger to the residents’ lives, their homes, and prospects for a better future.

Guatemala is among the world’s most vulnerable countries to disasters. In Guatemala City alone, over 800,000 people are considered at high risk to landslides. Because of the country’s rugged terrain, many communities are built on precariously steep hillsides and are considered particularly vulnerable to disasters as a result of heavy rain, landslides, earthquakes, and volcanoes.

On September 23, 2017, community members inaugurated a newly paved road constructed largely by the community members themselves. For the first time, they can climb up and down concrete stairs using a secure handrail and walk along a road with drainage constructed to withstand the next severe storm.

For more than 500 of the neighborhood’s residents, the new road means improved access to their homes. It also means a weight lifted off their shoulders. Now, whenever rain falls it will be efficiently channeled down the hillside through high-capacity drainage canals and into the ravine below. Previously, the rain would have saturated the ground, eroded the soil, and toppled homes perched along the hillside. Community members on the steep hillside no longer have to live in fear of such events.

John Lai, Taiwanese Ambassador to Guatemala, celebrates with local leaders and PADF at the ribbon cutting ceremony on September 23.

John Lai, Taiwanese Ambassador to Guatemala, celebrates with local leaders and PADF at the ribbon cutting ceremony on September 23.

PADF carried out this infrastructure project with generous financial support from Taiwan. Through its project “Yo Me Preparo” (I’m Getting Prepared, in English), PADF has worked closely with the Municipality of Mixco to help residents become more resilient to disasters. With Taiwan’s assistance, PADF improved the ability of 36,000 people across Mixco to prepare for and recover more quickly from disasters. This work focused on building disaster resistant infrastructure, providing training to disaster response teams, and organizing disaster preparedness and response brigades. PADF investments also allowed residents of vulnerable communities to become certified disaster responders within the Guatemalan natural disaster response system (CONRED). PADF led community engagement and discussion forums that enabled residents to identify, map, and prioritize disaster risks and to develop their own strategies to reduce those risks.

Community members organized to widen the road, preparing it for pavement.

Community members organized to widen the road, preparing it for pavement.

Similar to Guatemala, Taiwan is highly vulnerable to landslides as it is regularly hit by typhoons and earthquakes. In fact, a World Bank report also places Taiwan as one of the world’s most at-risk countries to natural hazards. In light of this, communities across Taiwan have formed disaster preparedness and response brigades. These brigades are highly organized, trained, and equipped to deal with life-threatening events. Taiwan has also made substantial investments in disaster resistant infrastructure–including roads, bridges, and high-capacity drainage systems. These investments reduce the negative effects of disasters and allow the Taiwanese people to bounce back more quickly from extreme events.

As Taiwan has developed its own disaster resistant communities, it is also committed to helping international communities to mitigate the effects of disasters. Taiwan has partnered with PADF to sponsor disaster risk reduction projects across Latin America and the Caribbean, including in Haiti, Honduras, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, and Guatemala.

John Lai, Taiwanese Ambassador to Guatemala, delivers a speech at the inauguration ceremony.

John Lai, Taiwanese Ambassador to Guatemala, delivers a speech at the inauguration ceremony.

In Guatemala, Taiwan’s support through PADF enabled community members to obtain the necessary tools, machinery, supplies, and technical experts to complete the infrastructure construction project. Meanwhile, members of the community identified the street and selected the construction site based on the high level of danger it posed to those living there. They then provided the manual labor for widening the path, relocating electrical poles, excavating the drainage canals, and paving the walkway.

“What I consider most inspiring about this community is that women have really led the way throughout the entire process. Most of those doing the heavy lifting were actually women. Anyone who doubts the ability of women to build better, more resilient communities hasn’t met the women of El Campanero,” says PADF Technical Manager Lucia de España. “Every day, women and men worked side by side to construct this street. Today we celebrate their strength and dedication to creating a better future.”

An El Campanero community member excavates the road construction area.

An El Campanero community member excavates the road construction area.

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The El Campanero community thanks Taiwan for its financial support and PADF for coordinating the project and making their community a safer place. Ambassador John Lai of Taiwan to Guatemala also extended his appreciation at the event to everyone involved in the project to make it possible.

After five months of construction, community members have a paved concrete road and a sturdy 70-step stairway. Thanks to the partnership between Taiwan, PADF, the Municipality of Mixco and other local partners, the El Campanero community members can safely access their homes without looming concerns of insecurity during the rainy season.


PADF and Taiwan