Threat of landslides
La Trinidad has always been in a risky place, so close to an active volcano. But since the recent eruption and resulting pyroclastic flow did not destroy La Trinidad, it is now officially designated a high-risk area. Heavy summer rains are likely to trigger lahar flows. The areas of unstable lahar volcanic material are just up the slope on two sides of La Trinidad.
On this clear day, steam rises off the northeast slope of Fuego, as well as from its caldera, whipping away in the wind. At this point, most of the 250 or so families that now call La Trinidad home are already elsewhere, including Camposeco’s wife and three children. But there are still about 24 families left in town, reluctant to leave their homes and possessions unguarded. They gather near a large ceiba tree near the village gate, a central gathering point across from the modest village chapel.
Otilia Garcia, the 44-year-old president of La Trinidad’s community development committee, says she and others have been in contact with the mayor of Escuintla, who is arranging a temporary place to stay for the remaining families.
“I think we need to leave here; it’s too risky,” she says. “We built a dignified life here, but we have children, and we need to move them to a safer place.”
Wish for better land
Camposeco goes back to his home one last time. He passes a large coffee processing facility—long and three stories tall, with a patio for drying the beans and a warehouse. The community has made significant investments in the cooperative facilities, he says. “We started from nothing. It was a lot of effort.”
He lives down around the corner in a two-bedroom concrete house with a grassy side yard bordered by a hedge with roses and hydrangeas blooming. A family dog and cat wander along the porch.
“Thank God no lives were lost here; that’s what I tell my family,” he says. “But we are going to fight—we’ll build another house, get other jobs. We need to live and we need to do whatever we have to do.” He struggles to think of how this would work. “We are fighting to find another farm, just like this one .... Maybe the government can give us better land. That’s our wish.”
Poverty and vulnerability
“After returning from exile in Mexico during the internal conflict, the people of La Trinidad were settled, sadly, in a very high-risk area,” says Ivan Aguilar, Oxfam’s humanitarian coordinator in Guatemala. “The government never should have settled them there.” It’s a reminder, he points out, that disasters disproportionately affect poor people, who more routinely live in vulnerable places.
Vulnerability—in Guatemala and many other places—“is intrinsically related to the condition of poverty and inequality,” Aguilar says.
Oxfam in Guatemala and its local partners are urging the government to compensate people from La Trinidad and find a safe place for them to live. Oxfam is also recommending the government provide a timely response to all survivors of the eruption, including compensation, resettlement in safe areas, and assistance in the dignified recovery of missing and deceased people.
Aguilar says Oxfam intends to stand with the people of La Trinidad. “We are committed to accompanying the men and women of La Trinidad as they work with the government to find a new, safe place to live and rebuild their lives.”