Natural Hazard Risk
Guatemala is at high risk to hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, landslides, tsunamis, droughts, and volcanic eruptions. Globally, the country ranks fifth among those with the highest economic risk exposure to three or more natural hazards, more than 83 percent of Guatemala’s GDP is located in areas at risk to natural hazards.
According to post-disaster needs assessments, severe natural disaster events caused damage and losses of $ 9.1 billion between 1975 and 2015, of which 42 percent correspond to geophysical events and 58 percent to hydrometeorological events. To date, the largest events have been the 1976 earthquake and Tropical Storm Agatha and the eruption of the Pacaya volcano the disaster events in 2010. The 1976 earthquake caused damages and losses equivalent to 20.7 percent of GDP. While 2010 events, product of the joint effect of the storm Agatha and the eruption of the Pacaya volcano, caused damages and losses of 3.9 percent of GDP. Additionally, in early October 2005, Hurricane Stan caused severe destruction in parts of Guatemala. The hurricane also triggered flooding and landslides, which directly affected more than 470,000 people and damaged or destroyed nearly 35,000 homes.
Further, heatwaves and high temperatures are expected to intensify in Guatemala and expand into previously cooler regions, provoking more droughts. This will likely pose adverse impacts on agricultural production, soil, and land and forest conservation, as well as water availability and quality. The impacts have already been experienced in recent years, with El Niño aggravating drought in Central America’s Dry Corridor. By the end of June 2016, roughly 3.5 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, while 1.6 million showed moderate or severe food insecurity in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Guatemala has taken important steps on the legislative and institutional infrastructure needed to reduce disaster risks in the country. Guatemala’s leading agency for disaster risk management (DRM) is the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (CONRED), founded in 1996. It operates as a coordinating mechanism to provide a platform and legal framework for inter-ministerial coordination for emergencies and disaster prevention. In 2011, the country approved the National Policy for Disaster Risk Reduction. More recently, in 2016, the National Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction Linked to Climate Change was enacted to create and strengthen the capacity of CONRED to reduce disaster risk and withstand the effects of climate change.
The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is the designated national authority on climate change. Within the ministry, the Climate Change Unit offers technical and scientific support and helps enhance participation in early warning activities related to climate variability.
Building on this progress, Guatemala is prioritizing the following:
- Improving national capacity for risk coping and recovery and to adapt to the impacts of climate change;
- Enabling national capacity for risk knowledge;
- Strengthening public investments in risk reduction; and,
- Improving land use planning and sustainable urban development in high risk prone areas.
GFDRR has supported activities in Guatemala at the regional, national, and local levels since 2008 to incorporate risk information in development planning processes, enhance financial disaster preparedness, and contribute to preventative planning in cities exposed to annual floods and landslides.
GFDRR’s engagement with Guatemala began in 2008 through regional dialogue initiated by the Central America Mitch +10 Report and Summit, which documented prevention and mitigation activities undertaken across the region since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. In the following years, to provide a general overview of the state of DRM program in selected countries and guide the engagement of GFDRR resources to support and complement these programs, GFDRR continued its regional support by developing the country notes for Guatemala and other Latin American countries.
GFDRR activities supported the Government of Guatemala to assess the damages and losses from Agatha-Pacaya in 2010 and assisted with recovery efforts. In 2012, GFDRR supported similar efforts and provided technical assistance to the government in the damage and loss assessment and recovery planning after the November 7, 2012 earthquake.
Beginning in 2013, GFDRR activities supported the Ministry of Finance to develop an integrated disaster risk financing and insurance strategy designed to reduce Guatemala’s fiscal vulnerability to natural disasters. This work helped pave the way for GFDRR to support the Ministry of Agriculture to develop an agriculture insurance market in the country.
Since 2017, GFDRR has provided technical assistance in the country to develop and propose an affordable and scalable model to retrofit existing houses and to align housing policies, private household investments, and access to microfinance products to improve living conditions. Activities include conducting vulnerability assessments and reviewing the performance of different types of housing units in past earthquakes; developing retrofitting solutions to mitigate earthquake and other hazard risks; and enhancing the impact of slum upgrading interventions with housing incentives by the government.
GFDRR anticipates continued demand from the Government of Guatemala for the following activities:
- Updating the framework of responsibilities by carrying out a complete reform of the current Disaster Reduction Act;
- Establishing a strategy for the financial management of disaster risk, combined with financial risk retention and risk transfer instruments, to provide an optimal mobilization of resources in an emergency;
- Supporting the design and implementation of a DRM Development Policy Loan with a Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option;
- Strengthening resilient urban development by launching the National Slum Upgrading Policy; and,
- Establishing binding criteria for the construction of public education infrastructure.