The K´iche’ communities of Tzamabaj Ixtahuatán, Chicorral, Pasaquijuyup (Ixtahuacán) and Pak´im (Nahualá) are located in the Sololá Department of Guatemala in the middle part of the Masa´ sub-basin, at a height of 1,658 to 2,224 meters above sea level. This part of the sub-basin is an important source of water and food production. It plays a pivotal role in preventing soil degradation, drought and salinization.
However, the communities in the area are vulnerable to landslides and mudslides, which damage their homes, their crops and routes of transport. In the rainy season heavy weather, such as hail and heavy rains and winds, can tear off the roofs of homes, and damage crops. Due to the heavy rain, people´s homes are flooded. Deforestation makes the impacts of these threats worse, as the trees no longer hold the soil and help the water to infiltrate. The forest has been replaced by monocultures of coffee and maxán leafs, which are used for tamales.
Most recently in 2010 (Storm Agatha) and 2011 (Tropical Depression 12 E) heavy weather caused the loss of lives, crops on plots, irrigation and drinking water, as well as landslides. These threats will keep hitting these communities if no prevention or mitigation action is undertaken.
National Government Decree 109-96 states that specific coordinators need to be installed throughout Guatemala who need to elaborate their Local Response Plan, based on the threats of each area. The response plans define the immediate action by the local communities when a disaster or emergency occurs.
What we do
To face these threats and to fulfil this requirement, Wetlands International, CARE and community representatives have strengthened the capacity and social organisations of the communities, raised awareness and trained these Local Coordinators for Disaster Risk Reduction (CONRED). Together they started the work on Risk Management by creating maps defining the hazards, vulnerabilities and capacities in the community. These maps form the base for local response plans.
Disaster risk reduction measures
In order to reduce the vulnerability to the identified hazards, the communities implement risk reduction and climate change adaptation measures in their area. These include the construction of living and lifeless barriers, wind breaking rows of alder and pine trees, establishing vegetable gardens, river clean-up campaigns, and the construction and improvement of the drainage system, ditches, and infiltration holes.
Additionally, the Bio-rights microfinance funds activities based on the needs of the communities. These can include the expansion of a school, which in an emergency event serves as a shelter for vulnerable families, small risk mitigation and reduction works, reforestation and improvement of the access roads. In this way the entire community can benefit from the activities funded by the Bio-rights microfinance.
In return for the financing of these activities by Wetlands International and CARE, the community members supply their labour for each of the activities, as well as a commitment for conservation activities. These conservation activities include the protection and management of their community forests, and reforestation through the planting of tree seedlings.