Improving preparedness to extreme natural hazards events in Lake Atitlán region: a bottom-up approach

Project information

Elia Machado –
Lehman College, City University of New York (CUNY), EEUU

USD 20,000

Guatemala, USA

Project investigators (click here)

Executive summary

Despite the progress made on risk reduction in Guatemala, decreasing vulnerability to disasters remains a challenge in Lake Atitlán’s region; a national touristic and ecological landmark repeatedly devastated by extreme rain events1, occasional droughts, and earthquakes. In addition to the instability of its volcanic soil and extreme slopes, vulnerability to disasters in Lake Atitlán is amplified by its unique socio-demographic characteristics. Its largely poor, indigenous, and illiterate population is not reflected in the outreach programs developed by the Guatemalan Coordinating Agency for Disaster Reduction (CONRED)2, which are mostly directed to an urban population.

Furthermore, little is known about the risk perception and preparedness level of this population, or how risk preparedness, along with the social, and physical characteristics of this area interact to amplify or reduce its vulnerability to natural hazards. Answering these questions is not only critical to develop effective risk communication and prevention strategies, but also to advance vulnerability to Global Environmental Change literature.

We are implementing a pilot project to investigate risk perception to extreme natural hazards events and to enhance preparedness to these events in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, a municipality in Lake Atitlán’s region declared a high risk area for natural hazards. To that end, we will perform three workshops involving the community and risk reduction stakeholders, complete a field assessment of extreme natural hazards events, and collect data on risk perception and preparedness using questionnaires, interviews, participatory mapping, and focus groups. The main outcomes of this project include: an inventory of risk reduction programs, a conceptual and causal diagram showing the risk perception of key stakeholders, a GIS database integrating social, physical, and risk perception indicators of vulnerability to disasters, and a spatial assessment of vulnerability to extreme natural hazards events. As a result, we will strengthen community preparedness to disasters, promote a more integrated view of risk in national agencies and organizations, and contribute new risk analysis approaches and insights about vulnerability to the international scientific community.

Disasters result from the complex interaction of biophysical and social processes. Our team is experienced working in multidisciplinary projects, includes expertise from the social and natural sciences, and has extensive experience in vulnerability analysis as well as implementing community risk reduction projects. We aim to use the results from this project to extend our approach to other communities in Lake Atitlán and Guatemala.


Elia Machado talks about her IAI funded research on disaster preparedness in rural areas

Project investigators

Héctor Tuy – Universidad Rafael Landívar (URL) / Instituto de Agricultura, Recursos Naturales y Ambiente (IARNA), Guatemala
Luis Ivan Girón Melgar – Asociación Vivamos Mejor (AVM), Guatemala
Yuri Gorokhovich – Lehman College, (CUNY), EEUU