The devastating mudslide—courtesy of Tropical Storm Eta—that recently all but swallowed the Poqomchi’ Mayan village of Queja in Guatemala is just the latest tragedy in a country whose high level of impoverishment has put it at the mercy of natural disasters made worse by climate change.
“Only a handful of the more than 100 people believed to have died in the slurry of orange mud have been recovered,” writes the Associated Press, describing the aftermath of the terrifying landslide, which overran the farming village around noon November 5.
With attempts at recovery repeatedly endangered by sodden and still-unstable terrain, and resources scarce thanks to the region’s remoteness and poverty, it is likely the disaster site will become a de facto burial ground, like several others around the country.
The broader damage to the country has been such that “President Alejandro Giammattei said he would ask the U.S. government to grant ‘temporary protected status’ to Guatemalans living in the United States because of the damages from Tropical Storm Eta,” AP adds.
Alejandro Maldonado, former director of Guatemala’s national disaster management agency, cited the World Risk Index to explain that the country ranks among the highest in the hemisphere for risk from natural disasters.
“It is a structural problem that is linked not only to the threat or the probability of producing elements like Eta, but rather other factors that make us vulnerable and are directly tied to the development of the country,” he told AP. Those factors include a lack of funding for or access to mitigation measures or planning, and climate and environmental issues—such as deforestation, which increases the instability of hillsides.
Guatemala is no stranger to having communities transformed into mass graves courtesy of landslides, writes AP. In 2009, “in a community called Los Chorros, just six miles (10 kilometres) from Queja, a landslide covered the highway, killing more than 35 people and leaving some 20 missing.”
A few years later, a landslide within Guatemala City “killed 250 and left about 70 missing,” the news agency adds The buried neighbourhood “had been declared dangerous before the slide, but local authorities allowed homes to be built there.”