DRR

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 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

PADF Responds to Devastating Mexican Earthquakes

Juchitán Earthquake

On September 7, a devastating magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck southern Mexico during the night. It was the most powerful Mexican earthquake in a century, and it killed more than 90 people in Juchitán and the surrounding area of Oaxaca and Chiapas. It also damaged vital infrastructure and various significant buildings, causing a state of emergency in the area. Powerful aftershocks were felt for days around the region. It also destroyed the region's main hospital and left families many doubting the structural integrity of their homes.

Mexico City Earthquake

Then, on September 19, a catastrophic magnitude 7.1 earthquake shook Mexico City and its surroundings, toppling dozens of buildings and severely damaging many more. Skyscrapers visibly rocked back and forth. Workers flooded the streets, hoping to get out before their workplaces crumbled. Nearly 300 people were killed in the incident, many trapped under rubble. Vital infrastructure and hundreds of community services like schools, shelters, roads and bridges suffered severe damage and urgently need to be rehabilitated.

PADF Responds

Both areas of the country need immediate assistance and emergency supplies. They also need long-term support to rebuild what they have lost to the misfortune of the disasters. PADF will assist the communities in greatest need, helping them to recover and rebuild their lives following the disaster. PADF is currently assessing the situation to intervene in the areas of greatest need, using its expertise in disaster response and coordination of resilient communities. 

You can help by making a monetary donation. To donate, please click the button below.

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Hurricanes Irma & Maria Leave Thousands Homeless

On September 5-6, Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda before moving on to hit the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the Bahamas. The record-breaking Category 5 hurricane was the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, and it rendered thousands homeless.

Just a couple weeks after Hurricane Irma caused so much damage in the Leeward Islands, Hurricane Maria quickly strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane before smashing the island nation of Dominica with 160 mph winds and heavy rain. Several mudslides occurred as the hurricane destroyed 90% of buildings on the island, littering it with structural debris. The hurricane also pummeled straight into Puerto Rico, which caused extensive damage and knocked out its electrical grid. Now, 3.4 million residents could be facing a humanitarian crisis as officials say power could be off for moths. A major dam's structural integrity was compromised, and now it's threatening to collapse.

The hurricanes have caused damage of historic proportions. For the first time in 300 years, the entire island of Barbuda (of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda) is uninhabited, as its 1,800 now homeless residents fled to Antigua. Irma's 185 mph winds knocked out 95% of its infrastructure. In Dominica, 98% of all buildings have suffered damage, and many are beyond repair. In Puerto Rico, 3.4 million residents are still struggling to access electricity and water after its grid collapsed.

The gravity of the devastation calls for an immediate and long-term response to rebuild what was destroyed by the hurricanes.

“Our closest friends and neighbors in the Caribbean and Mexico are confronting some of most tragic natural disasters in the history of our Hemisphere. We must all respond to support their efforts to rebuild more resilient communities after such widespread destruction and suffering.”
— John Sanbrailo, Executive Director, PADF

PADF will work alongside local organizations to rebuild more resilient communities that are capable of withstanding and responding to future extreme weather events. Since first responding to disasters 55 years ago, we have developed a strong network of partners in the Caribbean that work with local communities to recover from disastrous events.

Now, you can be part of the disaster response. Monetary donations help alleviate immediate disaster-related needs, like locally-purchased water, food and supplies. Please donate to be a vital part of the Caribbean's effort to recover from these catastrophic storms.

Realistic Disaster Simulation Prepares Communities & Authorities

Guatemala is one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world. Between droughts, floods, volcano eruptions, earthquakes and landslides, Guatemala is geographically placed to experience a major disaster event more frequently than other countries.

And aside from its geographic placement, its weak infrastructure often amplifies the negative effects of weather hazards. PADF is working with local authorities in reducing the risk of disaster by making key changes to infrastructure and preparation.

But disaster events are often unforeseen. How can officials prepare to save more lives in the hours and days after a disaster?

In a simulation held by PADF on September 2 and 3, local disaster teams (called COLREDs) in Guatemala trained to respond to disaster situations. Local community members role-played as disaster victims, acting desperate with injuries painted on their skin, as COLRED members trained in first response and disaster recovery.

The simulation was part of the Yo Me Preparo project, funded by Taiwan.

More than 180 disaster response personnel - including firefighters, national police, and national disaster defense - were trained in the simulation. They learned about evacuation and security systems, first response, and emergency planning.

In addition, mechanisms were shown for saving the highest quantity of people possible in any disaster situation.

In Guatemala, communities built on steep hillsides are especially prone to experiencing landslides. Therefore, it was vital that COLRED members trained in excavating people and rescuing those who had been trapped inside their homes.

At the end of the day, participants were reminded of the importance of preparing for rainy season, when soil gets water-logged and loses its adhesiveness. Each community should work together to take preparative measures before the threat of a disaster, because Guatemala depends on its local disaster personnel to save lives.

Urban Disaster Resilience Workshop in Guatemala

July 18, 2017 - In Guatemala City and its surrounding urban areas, many poor families are forced to live on steep hillsides in lieu of flat terrain. Living on hillsides makes already at-risk families even more vulnerable, often putting their entire livelihoods at stake. An especially rainy week combined with a small tremor or earthquake could be disastrous for thousands of families living in precarious situations.

Every time there's a disaster it's evident: Guatemala needs to improve its capability to prepare for and mitigate disaster.

On Wednesday, July 12, PADF and partners hosted a workshop on urban resilience, titled the "First Urban Resilience Meeting." The event was part of the Yo Me Preparo project, which focuses on disaster risk reduction in Guatemalan hillside communities. The project is funded by Taiwan and implemented by PADF.

The day's objective was to share knowledge and bring an array of experiences and perspectives to the table. By engaging various sectors, authorities can improve the way they serve and protect vulnerable urban populations.

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“Guatemala is among the most vulnerable countries due to its geographic position and sociopolitical situation,” said Lucía España, Technical Lead for PADF Guatemala. “For these events it’s vital to share information and look for solutions across all sectors.”

Disaster risk reduction relies highly on coordination between national and local government, civil society, municipal government, academia and communities themselves. The event brought together all of those actors to catalyze the spread of knowledge and share best practices.

Lucía notes that community organizations and nonprofits have a responsibility, but “it is the municipality paired with the local and national disaster management teams that have the greatest responsibility for these processes to become sustainable.”

The event's organizers and speakers included PADF, Techo Guatemala, the Guatemalan Red Cross, ESFRA, CESEM, Mancomunidad Gran Ciudad del Sur, COOPI, Perpendicular, CONRED, and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

Guatemala's local disaster response teams, or COLREDES, presented their successes and shared their challenges during one forum event. Discussion also focused on the use of new tools and technology to further mitigate disaster. A final forum brought up local implications for new national laws and how local entities should continue serving under new legislation.

The Yo Me Preparo project’s inclusive approach to disaster risk reduction has shown that a wide range of communities and organizations play an important role. The project has focused on strengthening links between sectors, thereby creating a more sustainable form of collaboration.

PADF Hosts Regional Workshop on Disaster Risk Reduction

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Moving Urban Communities Towards Resilience: Progress and Challenges

San Salvador, El Salvador (May 31, 2017) — The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) and Taiwan, with the support of the Permanent Risk Management Bureau (MPGR) in El Salvador, will host a regional disaster risk reduction workshop. Titled "Moving Urban Communities Toward Resilience: Advances and Challenges," the workshop will take place May 31 to June 2, 2017.

Delegations from Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador will participate in the event. During the meeting, participants, regional institutions and government representatives from El Salvador will exchange experiences about working in disaster management and disaster risk reduction.

The objective of the workshop is to share experiences and best practices for disaster management, with an emphasis on urban resilience. The goals is to create a regional framework to address natural disasters based on the ideas and recommendations of participants.

Central America and the Caribbean are highly vulnerable regions. Natural hazards combined with geographical, political, environmental, social, economic and gender vulnerabilities.        

Between the Managua, Nicaragua earthquake in 1972 and 2010, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) recorded natural disasters in 28 countries in the region. The total cost of these disasters was approximately 213 billion dollars and 309,742 deaths, affecting roughly 30 million people.

Given these risks, regional authorities must work together to reduce vulnerabilities and transform the socio-economic factors that prohibit communities from being properly prepared.

The regional workshop is part of the Taiwan-funded Yo Me Preparo project, which seeks to strengthen urban hillside communities that are vulnerable to floods and landslides. The project brings together universities, the private sector and members of the public sector to increase the resilience of the community by promoting climate change adaptation disaster risk reduction.

Since 2012, PADF and Taiwan have collaborated in countries throughout the region in dealing with emergencies and natural disasters. The Taiwan Regional and Disaster Assistance and Reconstruction Program (PADF) has been a five-year alliance to promote preparedness and mitigation programs in six countries.

Climate-smart agriculture program helps Guatemalan farmers resist drought

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Guatemala City, May 4, 2017 - A yearlong food security and disaster risk reduction project in Guatemala ends today with successful results. The "Yo Me Adapto" (I adapt) program, funded by the U.S. Agency for Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) and implemented by PADF, helped vulnerable communities in the municipalities of Sansare and Sanarate in El Progreso Department. Through training offered to farmers in the region, PADF encouraged the use of new, climate-smart farming techniques. The initiative helped farmers maximize crop yields and mitigate food insecurity in Guatemala in a sustainable way.

PADF worked with farmers affected by the worst drought in Guatemala in decades. By sharing methods to improve crop productivity in affected areas, PADF managed to improve the lives of approximately 9,000 farmers and their families facing severe food insecurity. PADF worked with with the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG) to expand and strengthen the existing network of Rural Development Learning Centers (CADER), managed by the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food (MAGA).

Throughout the project, PADF established 20 new CADERs and strengthened the capacity of an additional 40 centers. An average of 25 families participated in the agricultural activities and training of these spaces. A demonstration farm was established in Sanarate where agricultural techniques and crops in drought-prone areas were analyzed. PADF shared these best practices and technologies with the families that participated in the CADER. Through the "Yo Me Adapto" program, PADF promoted the use of greenhouses, soil conservation techniques, efficient irrigation systems and climate monitoring systems to protect crops against the inclement weather, invasive species, and to achieve better crop production. These techniques were transmitted to more than 1,500 families.

"The best thing we have learned is to produce our own food, for the benefit of our children," says Elsa Maritza Ruano Morales of CADER "Los Aritos" in Sansare. "In this way we prevent diseases caused by a poor diet. In addition, we now have farming methods that are good for the environment, so that we can maintain our crops, prepare for drought and survive. "

During the program, PADF and partners held workshops with 60 CADER members and provided technical assistance for the development of Community Action Plans. Through these plans, farmers were able to identify and understand threats to their food security, as well as strategies to improve food production, support income generation, and mitigate and overcome barriers to food security. To achieve this, PADF provided farmers with the tools necessary to put everything they learned into practice.

The Foundation was able to provide the project beneficiaries with resources to plan and implement their action plans, through donations that included irrigation systems, greenhouses and pumping equipment. Thanks to these efforts, members of both new and existing CADERs had the opportunity to learn how to determine the best crop varieties to plant using the best equipment. They also received bean, corn and vegetable seeds, which will provide them with better food during the dry season.

“Thanks to the training we’ve learned how to diversify our crops and sell them in the local market,” says Melvin Morales, a farmer in the village of San Rafael, Sanarate Department. “Increasing our incomes will give us the chance to withstand the drought, and have food year-round.”

According to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), Guatemala has the highest rate of chronic malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

About PADF
The Pan American Development Foundation, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization, brings together many stakeholders to improve livelihoods, empower communities, strengthen civil society, support human rights, protect the environment and respond to natural disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean. Established by the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1962, PADF has worked in every country in the region.

About USAID
This project is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The U.S. Agency for International Development administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide.

*The contents are the responsibility of PADF and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Maps, Drones Bring Life-Saving Information to Disaster-Prone Guatemala

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PADF, George Washington University Train Students to Map Using Mobile Phones

Guatemala City (March 10, 2017) — The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) is working with faculty and students at George Washington University (GWU) to bring digital mapping tools to vulnerable communities in Guatemala. The goal is to make life-saving information available to community planners, humanitarian aid workers and residents. PADF is carrying out this work as a member of the global initiative called Missing Maps, which aims to improve disaster preparation and the delivery of humanitarian assistance by mapping the world’s most vulnerable places.

The Municipality of Mixco, Guatemala has vast areas of densely populated settlements located along steep hillsides that often lack adequate roadways, storm drainage, retaining walls or evacuation routes. These conditions make residents especially vulnerable during floods, landslides and other disasters.

A team from PADF and GWU will travel to Guatemala this week to teach students from Rafael Landivar University how to use mobile phone-based survey tools to collect information on household vulnerability, infrastructure and disaster preparedness. PADF is also using drones to capture high-resolution images of communities that can improve the identification of at-risk areas and facilitate the distribution of aid in a disaster. The Humanitarian Information Unit at the U.S. Department of State has supported these efforts by supplying additional high-resolution satellite imagery of targeted areas that are especially vulnerable to landslides.

“By putting open-data mapping technologies into the hands of local students, researchers and members of these communities themselves, we are building grassroots capacity,” says Aaron Van Alstine, Senior Programs Manager at PADF. “We’re empowering communities take a leading role in preparing for disasters.”

High population density, deforestation and land degradation make Guatemala one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Storms, landslides and floods were responsible for more than 90 percent of disaster-related fatalities in the country between 1990 and 2014.

“Many informal urban communities are literally not on the map, so planners ignore them or when emergencies happen they are hard to assist,” says Dr. Marie Price, Professor of Geography and International Affairs at George Washington University. “Mapping improves our understanding of life threatening conditions and identifies the households that face the greatest risk.”

Dr. Nuala Cowan, Assistant Professor of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at George Washington University, supervises the pro-bono consultancy services that two GW students currently provide to PADF as part of their graduate program. Geography students Andrii Berdnyk and Sudie Brown will join Dr. Price and Dr. Cowan in Guatemala where they will conduct field assessments and trainings with local communities to improve the use of mapping tools for reducing vulnerability to disasters.

“Residents need to be part of the decision-making process where their welfare is concerned,” says Dr. Cowan. “Training on accessible technologies, understanding and mapping the risks in their own communities, increases local confidence, awareness and bargaining power from a community perspective.”

PADF is currently implementing a disaster risk reduction project in Guatemala funded by Taiwan and is expected to facilitate the identification of communities most vulnerable to natural hazards, especially floods and landslides.

In addition to training disaster-response teams and implementing small-scale infrastructure projects, PADF is organizing a series of mapathons that bring together volunteers from around the world to trace buildings, roads and other geographic information in Guatemala using satellite imagery. Once collected, this data is stored online and made freely available to the public, including humanitarian assistance organizations and other local groups.

For more information, visit www.padf.org/mapping.

PADF, Taiwan Launch Disaster Risk Reduction Project in Guatemala

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The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) and Taiwan announce a new disaster risk reduction project that will benefit thousands of people living in vulnerable hillside communities in Guatemala.

Funded by Taiwan, the project “Yo Me Preparo” (I’m Getting Prepared) will benefit 5,000 people in the municipality of Mixco, Guatemala. Located just northwest of Guatemala City, residents in Mixco are exposed to multiple natural hazards, including floods, landslides and earthquakes. 

This one-year initiative brings together community stakeholders, government authorities, and universities, as well as private sector actors, to encourage climate change adaptation and increase community resilience in the face of disaster events. PADF will provide training and equipment to organize neighborhood-based disaster preparedness and response teams.   

By working with community members and municipal authorities PADF will also evaluate and strengthen early warning systems and identify strategies to reduce the impacts of disasters. PADF will support local development priorities by implementing small-scale disaster mitigation infrastructure projects such as paved walkways, drainage canals, and evacuation route signage. PADF will organize workshops in Guatemala and San Salvador, El Salvador, that will facilitate the exchange of lessons learned and best practices for disaster risk reduction among national and municipal governments and the communities they serve.  

“Taiwan is pleased to support the international community in adapting to climate change and responding to natural disasters,” says John Lai, Ambassador of Taiwan to Guatemala. “It is our hope that through careful preparation, we can save lives. 

El Salvador and Guatemala rank fourth and fifth worldwide in economic risks due to hazards including floods, landslides and earthquakes. High population density, deforestation, and land degradation also contribute to the widespread vulnerability. Storms, landslides and floods were responsible for more than 90 percent of disaster-related fatalities in Guatemala between 1990 and 2014.  

“PADF is excited to expand its partnership with Taiwan to provide the tools and training that will make communities less vulnerable to hazards,” says Lucia España, Technical Lead for PADF Guatemala.

Since 2012, PADF and Taiwan have been collaborating with countries throughout the region to address emergencies and natural disasters. The Taiwan-PADF Disaster Assistance and Reconstruction Fund is a five-year partnership to foster preparedness and mitigation programs. Community-based disaster preparedness projects have been carried out in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize. The Disaster Assistance and Reconstruction Fund has delivered assistance to over 300,000 people in Latin America & the Caribbean.