Vulnerability and Disasters: Synonymous with Disinterest

For: Yessica Pastor

During the past month of November Guatemala was again pounded by two storms, Iota and Eta.  As some, through various methods, were learning about these climate change phenomena, others were protagonists in the resulting catastrophic situations.

Our vulnerability to these natural disasters in Guatemala is a problem which has dragged us down for a long time and it gets worse year after year.  And as is typical, the government’s response to these two most recent storms was late in coming and insufficient.  More than a month has passed and many families in affected areas continue adrift, without having a  solution to their problems.  But this vulnerability is not an isolated incident.  Similarly, this country finds itself immersed in social problems.  Families and individuals are limited in what they have to cover the mere basic necessities making impossible any capacity to respond to these situations.  Undoubtedly, the government is the most responsible for creating and fostering a social, economic and political structure which perpetuate these conditions, insuring a society of inequality, thereby, a fragmented one.

Various studies show that many municipalities in the nation have high level of social vulnerability.  Just reviewing municipal development plans created by the President of the Republic of Guatemala’s  Secretary of Planning and Programs, SEGEPLAN, one can observe high degrees of social vulnerability.  For example, in the risk management section, the majority of the documents clearly describe threats to and vulnerability of municipalities, as it does the aspects that should be considered in order to avoid these turning into dangers for the communities.  Nevertheless, frequently, in the implementation of these plans, objectives are lost, and therefore, things continue the same or worsen.

It’s clear that Guatemala, because of its {geographic and geological}* characteristics, is a country prone to the threat of natural disaster, and in need of reducing the frequency caused by environmental factors, above all atmospheric.  So, there’s a necessity for creation of appropriate Territorial Plan of Laws/Regulation tailored to the reality of each locale.  However, this will not be possible if governmental structure continues as it is.  Given this, we must not hold off, even for a few moments, in thinking about our role as Guatemalan citizens, in considering for whom we will vote into public office.  If we don’t make demands and ask for accountings from our local officials, if we aren’t assertive in our demands to the government, a bureaucratic document will have no worth.  The problem will just repeat itself next year, and the next, continually and indefinitely.

We must be somewhat empathetic to the reality of other Guatemalans and how they live their lives, i.e. not just feeling their suffering and acquiescing to their prays or making a donation to alleviate our conscience and then closing the door on the issue as if it were resolved.  We must plan in a collective manner because, perhaps, tomorrow there won’t be a storm affecting the entire country, rather a drought, a freeze, an earthquake or some natural phenomenon for which we are not prepared, impacting us much more directly.

Let’s remember that the causes of problems in this world are not only due to people who behave badly.  Rather, in large part, they are due to others and their passivity.  As the Reverend Martin Luther King, a well-known defender of civil rights for African-Americans, said,  “The cries from violent, corrupt or dishonest people, those with no ethics,  do not bother me.  What most worries me is the silence of good folks”.

*parenthetically added by translator

Image: Orlando Sierra