by Manuel Perechú, CARE Guatemala
“I’ve been living by myself for 35 years now. My four sisters and four brothers don’t remember me. I am all by myself.” Rafael Bernardo Fuentes Orozco is 72 years old and lives in San Cristóbal Cucho in the department of San Marcos, Guatemala. In the morning of November 7th, Rafael left his home looking for a day job to earn some money to buy food. When he started working in the fields, suddenly the earth shook. His thoughts were racing: What had happened to his house?
Rafael immediately rushed back home and found his house completely destroyed. A wave of pain and sadness went through his body. He had nowhere to live, nowhere to prepare his food. A few seconds had destroyed everything that Rafael had possessed.
The earthquake on November 7th hit off the coast of Champerico in the Southwest of Guatemala with a strength of 7.2 on the Richter scale. Until today, 95 aftershocks have been registered. The death toll stands at 43 people, 180 have been injured. A total of 3,064 buildings are destroyed or severely damaged. CARE has been working in Guatemala since 1959 and focuses its development work on social services, livelihoods, supporting citizenship and emergencies. When the earthquake hit, a team was immediately sent to the affected areas to collect information on the needs of the affected communities. Food, water and fuel are major concerns. But in the mountainous region of San Marcos, where the temperature often drops below ten degrees Celsius, the communities also need blankets to keep warm.
Today, Rafael walks from door to door, looking for shelter. In a poor community with no social infrastructure for the homeless, the neighbors’ solidarity is his only hope. And the sense of community in San Cristóbal Cucho is strong: Neighbors are kind enough to offer him a place to rest his head. “At my age, I cannot find a regular job anymore, because I suffer from rheumatism and arthritis. So I work as a daily laborer, and I earn 20 Quetzales (around 2.50 USD) for the day. This is barely enough to buy food”, tells Rafael. Humanitarian disasters always affect the poorest of the poor in the most brutal way: They lose what little they have and are rarely able to compensate their losses without external support. “What I really need now is food and shelter. I don’t have anywhere to live and to put my troubled mind at ease. The neighbors said they would help me rebuild my home if I could provide the materials.” But so far, no decision has been taken by the local authorities on how to support Rafael and other people like him who have lost everything in the earthquake.
Meanwhile, in the town of Santa Teresa, the deputy mayor had sad news to report. On a nearby field, the earthquake caused a landslide that covered over 13 hectares, burying two coffee farmers. When neighbors heard the cries of 50-year old Margarito and 32- year old Ariel, they were able to localize and rescue them. The two were taken to their homes on improvised stretchers, suffering great pain. Three hours later, they passed away. Margarito’s and Ariel’s families, ten people in total, have not received any support so far. The funeral costs were covered with the help of neighbors. Both families need food and clean water, because a landslide has also destroyed their farmhouses’ piped water system. Families like those of Margarito and Ariel, who live and work on hillsides, are particularly vulnerable to landslides. With no resources to prepare for a disaster, they are left with nothing.
CARE is scaling up its emergency response to reach remote-lying areas in San Marcos and make sure that people receive support to recover from the disaster. CARE closely coordinates with the local authorities, the United Nations and other humanitarian actors to ensure access to all affected communities. In the long run, CARE works to address the underlying causes of the communities’ vulnerability to disasters: chronic poverty, lack of infrastructure, food security and nutrition, gender disparities and insufficient means and knowledge to prepare for a day such as November 7th.
About CARE in Guatemala: CARE began work in Guatemala in 1959, distributing school lunches to more than 20,000 students in Guatemala City. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, CARE provided materials for building schools and supported community groups to improve health conditions and education of children in rural areas. CARE developed clean water and basic sanitation projects, started distributing supplementary food to children and lactating women, and promoted the use of services of primary health care. The 1976 earthquake marked a major transition in CARE´s work, focusing on rescue and reconstruction in the affected areas. Today, CARE operates projects in water and sanitation, agriculture, agroforestry, primary health care, population, girl's education and small economic activity development. Women and girls are at the center of CARE Guatemala’s work to combat poverty and injustices.
About CARE: Founded in 1945, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. CARE has more than six decades of experience helping people prepare for disasters, providing lifesaving assistance when a crisis hits, and helping communities recover after the emergency has passed. CARE places special focus on women and children, who are often disproportionately affected by disasters. To learn more, visit www.care-international.org. Learn more about CARE's work in emergencies here.«All Stories and Blogs