Storm Eta Emergency Response in Guatemala

by IsraAID
Storm Eta Emergency Response in Guatemala
Storm Eta Emergency Response in Guatemala
Storm Eta Emergency Response in Guatemala
Storm Eta Emergency Response in Guatemala
Storm Eta Emergency Response in Guatemala
Storm Eta Emergency Response in Guatemala
Storm Eta Emergency Response in Guatemala
Storm Eta Emergency Response in Guatemala
Storm Eta Emergency Response in Guatemala
Storm Eta Emergency Response in Guatemala

Since March 2020 Guatemala is also badly impacted by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. After a peak in August and September 2021 in new cases, new infection rates went down considerably but since January figures shot up again almost reaching the highest number of new infections yet. The health sector in Guatemala remains structurally underfunded and the additional stress and longer working hours caused by the pandemic also have a negative impact on the well-being of medical staff leading to increased drop-out.

Though schools have been closed since March 2020, in practice, children and parents come to schools to meet teachers and obtain tasks for working at home. IsraAID has been working in the departments of Escuintla and Alta Verapaz and has built up good relationships with both the Ministries of Health and Education in both departments. IsraAID has been supporting the training of teachers and health staff, public health campaigns, provision of PPE, and stimulating coordination between civil society actors. A cold-chain assessment was carried out in Escuintla where IsraAID also offered psychosocial support to first-line health workers.

Schools play such an important role in helping parents understand their child’s nutritional status and help establish healthy eating habits and healthy behaviors. It became very evident through IsraAID's nutrition education program in the schools in Guatemala that the public craves more information; they want to understand how to improve their health and prevent diseases by modifying their habits. Health education empowers children, parents, and teachers with the knowledge and skills to make decisions for themselves and their families.

This nutrition program identified schools as an essential partner to be involved in the referral pathway for a child to reach the necessary support from a healthcare practitioner. Schools are an ideal aid to link the family structure and the health care system.  The implementation of this referral pathway will not only aid in the early diagnosis of malnourished children but will also make a big difference in their outcome and development for a brighter future.

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Across 70 schools in Guatemala, our team launched a nutrition education pilot. We educated teachers, as well as parents in order to carry on the learning at home, about healthy diets and nutrition requirements.

The information provided was tailored for the local context, accounting for seasonal availability and income levels of the community. The schools were equipped with the knowledge and training necessary to successfully monitor and identify children that may be suffering or at risk of malnutrition, as well as kits to measure height and weight in order to track their students' development.

Additionally, we also staff at local healthcare centers in order that they would be able to accept malnutrition referrals and perform counter-referrals for ongoing case management.

Due to the current COVID-19 situation, the sessions with teachers, parents, and healthcare workers were conducted over Zoom, but engagement remained high in spite of the situation.

After a successful set of sessions, we are planning to use the recordings to create an easily-accessible resource available for other communities that may also require nutrition education.

Thank you for your continued support of vulnerable communities in Guatemala. 

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Nestled in the mountains of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, is the community of Santa Elena Mamachaj, and its Community Health Center (CHC). In Santa Elena Mamachaj there is no electricity, water, drainage public transport services, and the only state institutions are the schools that remain closed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Community Health Center.

This health center serves an additional three communities -  Q’anácek, Q’atonike and La Libertad - a total of around 1000 people from which around 60 patients attend the clinic weekly for consultations or treatment of common disease.

Much of the staff, including Neida a nursing assistant, spent much of their time clearing water that leaked in from the deteriorated roof. Additionally, the health center did not have enough water to meet its needs, and as such, a member of staff would often walk four kilometers each way to reach a natural source.

Together with the Health Directorate of Alta Verapaz, IsraAID Guatemala not only provided materials to replace the roof but also installed a water harvesting system to ensure regular & direct access and storage of fresh water.

 

Santiago Pá Siquic is a nurse from central Guatemala and is responsible for five health facilities in San Juan Chamelco. He plays an active role in improving the activities and infrastructure of these health facilities.

Under normal circumstances, the lack of safe water and drainage makes work difficult, but due to the pandemic, health staff have an increasing number of responsibilities, including visiting communities to vaccinate the local population. For example, the Sehaquibá Community Health Center cannot be open every day as staff may be visiting other communities for a COVID-19 vaccination day. 

As staff carry out their services in the health centers and in communities, Santiago is supporting the teams as they continue to meet the varying health needs of over a thousand people. He thanks IsraAID and its donors for the interventions in the health system of Alta Verapaz. Our WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) activities in the are not only directly affect the ability of health staff to carry out their duties, but also directly translates into the development of children and their ability to access education.

 

Thank you for your support while we support community health centers in Guatemala.

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Alta Verapaz is one of the poorer departments in Guatemala, as well as being one of the worst-hit regions by Storm Eta and Hurricane Iota in November. We have been working with the communities since November to help them recover and build back better. The storms damaged 60 health facilities, causing damage to the roofs and as a result, the water distribution systems.

It's essential that health care facilities have access to clean water for handwashing, drinking water, cleaning, infection protection, as well as medical purposes. Yet around the world, around 1 out of 4 health care facilities do not have basic water services, affecting 2 billion people. 

Our WASH team in Guatemala, made up primarily of trained locals, are simultaneously repairing damaged roofs and installing rainwater harvesting systems, ensuring a consistent supply of water for 22 centers that provide health services in San Pedro Carcha and Lanquin municipalities. 

Hear from Wilfredo, a manager of one of the health facilities!

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Guatemala Country Director Jaime Rhemrev lead IsraAID’s emergency response mission in Alta Verapaz, among the areas impacted by Storm Eta and Hurricane Iota in November. Below is an update from during the response.



It’s now been two weeks since we launched our emergency response mission in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. This is one of the regions most severely impacted by Storm Eta and Hurricane Iota, which brought with them torrential rains that lasted more than a week. Humanitarian aid efforts have been extremely difficult due to damaged and impassable roads caused by flooding and landslides — not to mention the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which complicates it all.

Over 500,000 Guatemalans have been affected across the country, including tens of thousands who have been evacuated to temporary shelters. In these spaces, it’s extremely difficult to curb the spread of Coronavirus, especially due to the rudimentary sanitation and hygiene resources available to the families living in these churches, schools, and community centers.


Even before these storms hit the area, the communities in Alta Verapaz were facing immense challenges and lacked resources to address them. For example, across the entire department, there are only 8 psychologists and not a single psychiatrist. 50% of Guatemalan children are malnourished — with these numbers expected to rise significantly in the coming months due to the immense crop damage caused by the storms. Access to safe water is extremely tenuous, as many of the rainwater harvesting systems utilized by the community (70% of whom live in rural areas, and are therefore less likely to be connected to water infrastructure) were severely ravaged by the storm. The large bodies of stagnant water created by the flooding bring with them high risk of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, but more than 80 of the health centers across Alta Verapaz were either damaged or entirely destroyed.

As an organization, IsraAID’s approach is to always go into any emergency response with our Disaster Risk Reduction “goggles” on. This means that we are always thinking ahead toward the potential for the next crisis, for the next hurricane, the next earthquake. So, when we rebuild the rainwater harvesting device, or the health center’s roof, or provide training for local social workers to administer Psychological First Aid, the main question is: how can we ensure that communities are better equipped to respond next time this happens?

In light of climate change, and the extremely high-risk factors facing Guatemala (such as many active volcanoes), it’s essential that we always take Disaster Risk Reduction into account.


Over the last weeks, I’ve seen immense awareness among the local communities here of this concept. 94% of Alta Verapaz’ population are indigenous, with their own unique language and culture. These groups have unfortunately faced decades of discrimination, with limited services available. However, what we’ve learned while being here is the natural propensity for Disaster Risk Reduction efforts that this community holds.


As we surveyed one community that had been buried by a landslide, the community members were already reflecting on what happened. They kept repeating that they “did not take care of nature.” They were asking themselves and each other what they could have done better. They were thinking forward about what needed to happen.


This is the first step of Disaster Risk Reduction: reflecting and understanding what went wrong, and what can be done to head off future crises by preparing, making plans, sharing information, and learning from one another.


But this can only be done when communities are committed to the process. Here, we don’t foresee that being an issue. We are excited to launch our partnership with these communities.

This type of reflection, of forward thought, of strategic thinking not only about the present needs, but also about how to truly put the future first is exactly why we’re here, and why we’ll stay here, helping to cultivate a culture of emergency preparedness, aiming to mitigate any future events and stymie the potential harm they may cause.


With your support, we were able to prioritize the future. Thank you.

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IsraAID

Location: Tel Aviv, Merkaz - Israel
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Project Leader:
Ethan Schwartz
Tel Aviv, Merkaz Israel
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