No water, no house, no food

The triple impact of Eta, Iota and COVID-19 on Guatemala most vulnerable’s families

By Rodrigo Mussape
Sonia Magaly Pa, together with her two, Hernan,  children13, and Dafne, 7. After the passage of Hurricanes Eta and Iota through Guatemala, the family had to flee and move to a temporary shelter. They lost their home and most of their belongings.
25 November 2020

The hurricane Iota leaves deep marks on thousands of families in Guatemala and in other areas of Central America already strongly impacted by Hurricane Eta, which emerged 2 weeks before, and amid the coronavirus pandemic. In Cobán, Alta Verapaz, in northern Guatemala, one of the most affected areas, landslides have buried some 150 homes, forcing evacuated families to sleep in centers set up by the Government and several humanitarian organizations


Cobán, Guatemala - Hurricane Eta began to affect the inhabitants of Cobán, in northern Guatemala, on  November 3rd.

"The wind started blowing very strongly and I was worried that the trees could damage our house; on Thursday, the house started to crack," reminds Sonia Magaly Pa.

The following days, the situation worsened in such a way that Sonia and her family had definitively to leave their house at the request of the authorities.

For Sonia, it is very difficult to find the words to explain to her children that they have lost everything. This humble family has been saving each penny for years to leave an inheritance to their children: "The new construction we made 4 months ago was done thinking that in the future it would be adequate for two floors for our children," comments Sonia, crying.


"I have been helping my dad to build this place, I have lived here for 13 years and now we have lost everything and it hurts me not to be able to come back home," adds Hernan, her older son of 13 years, helpless. Her 7-year-old daughter, Daphne, thinks they will never come back and prays to God to give them their home back. 

Sonia and her family are now staying indefinitely in a center along with 11 other families. Each family has a 20 square meter room at their disposal and sleeps on inflatable mattresses and uses folded clothing instead of pillows. The 53 residents share two bathrooms and a single provisional shower. The local authorities fill up some water barrels and thanks to the donations, they can eat three times a day.

Sonia's story is not an isolated case. According to recent data from CONRED, landslides, mudslides, subsidence and flooding have impacted more than 1.8 million people throughout the country. More than 222,000 people were evacuated and approximately 30,000 people are still in official centers and more than 192,000 in informal centers or family homes.

Josefin Poucu, also a resident of Coban, widow and mother of 6 children between 3 and 18 years old (one of them, a 17-year-old single mother has a 2-month-old baby) has also suffered first hand from the consequences of Hurricanes Eta and Iota

Sonia Magaly Pa, together with her two children, Hernan, 13, and Dafne, 7. After the passage of Hurricanes Eta and Iota through Guatemala, the family had to flee and move to a temporary shelter. They lost their home and most of their belongings.

"The Cahaboncito River began to grow, and the current began to carry all of our belongings. I managed to get my children out and we went up to a neighbor who lives higher up. The water kept rising until it covered the whole house up to three meters high and I couldn't get anything else out," he explains. "Then they moved us to into this chapel in the cemetery, but here we have no water, no electricity, not even a bathroom. And food, they hardly bring us any, because it is very far for the volunteers to come here.”

Josefin Poucú, in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala on November 21. Widow and mother of 6 girls and boys between 3 and 18 years old.

Many of the affected families in the Cobán area are in a precarious situation: they have nowhere to go. Walter Cu, Vice President of the Community Council for Urban and Rural Development of the Petet Satulum Community, comments that 27 of the 56 families living in this community will not be able to return to their homes. Authorities still do not know where to house them due to the lack of resources. "They need land, they can't go back home and now they have no food, no clothes and many of them don't have jobs either. We need help for everyone," he explains.

The arrival of hurricanes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic increases the vulnerability of this population even more, especially that of children and adolescents. The risk of waterborne diseases is enormous in the face of poor sanitary conditions and limited access to safe water and adequate food.

For this reason, among other actions, in Guatemala, UNICEF is distributing 1,900 hygiene kits for the affected families with the objective of mitigating the effects of the hurricanes on children and their families and helping to preserve basic hygiene conditions

Conred workers load 1,900 hygiene kits donated by UNICEF to trucks to be delivered to families affected by tropical storms Eta and Iota on November 19, in Guatemala City.

In seven Central American countries, Hurricane Eta affected about 4.6 million people, including about 1.8 million children, according to initial estimates by UNICEF. About a week later, Tropical Storm Iota, the strongest Atlantic hurricane so far this year, continues to trigger rains that are causing flash flooding and potentially deadly landslides in parts of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama.

UNICEF requires US$42.6 million to reach more than 646,000 people, including 327,000 children, with vital supplies and basic services in centers and communities in the most affected areas of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

As needs are expected to increase after Hurricane Iota has hit Central America, this initial funding request is likely to increase significantly in the coming days and weeks.

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