Tropical Storm Agatha: AIDG responds – Xaquijyá Update [06/12/10]

On Friday June 12th the AIDG team returned to Xaquijyá for further investigation of the community’s water system. We scrambled up and down the mountainside to review one side of the community’s 10 springs, as well as the other sector’s 3 springs and separate water system. The 160 family community is served by two water systems, one that reaches 76 families and the other 74.

By the end of the day we had walked about 12 kilometers and seen all the springs and most of the pipeline. Luckily none of the springs had been wiped out, which bodes well for the repair. The sector of the community that is served by 3 large springs had their pipeline damaged in 3 places – two along the mountainside and one at a stream crossing in the community. Overall it looked to be a fairly straightforward repair job, especially in comparison with the other sector. Sector 2, which we had visited on Tuesday, had their pipe broken in at least 8 places, and the terrain was much harder to work in. We were literally clawing our way up the hillside in some places to get from spring to spring.

This week we will be working with community members to develop a plan to get the people water as quickly as possible. Once we have that plan in place we will work with them to try to create a more tropical storm-resistant water system that can help them to not be in such a dire position the next time the mountain comes down.

The damage from Agatha was not limited just to this community, or just to a few communities. As we were sweating at the top of the mountain after having verified the state of all the springs, our view spread out all over the departments of Sololá and Quiché. Hillside after hillside was scarred with brown lines among the green tries, signs of the landslides that had ripped the mountains apart. Locals say that in this part of the country the damage was worse than during Hurricane Stan. It will take the rural communities of this area a long time to recover, and a lot of outside help will be needed to reconstruct their key infrastructure, most of which was constructed at some point with a lot of help from a government that doesn’t have the resources now to repair them all at once.

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Tropical Storm Agatha Update: AIDG's response in Xaquijyá, Guatemala [06/09/10]

Intern Sadhbh MacMahon reports:

On the morning of June 8th, most of AIDG, including coordinators and interns, piled into our vehicles already packed with shovels, dry goods and sanitary items. We were headed to the Xaquijyá community near Lake Atitlan to help them with some of the damage they had suffered as a result of tropical storm Agatha. Landslides had completely wiped out several of their houses along with a grain storage shed. Many other homes were buried in mud and uninhabitable. More urgently, the storm had torn through some of the piping that fed water to the community from mountain springs higher up, leaving some 160 houses without running water. The nearest alternative water source was a long hike away.


A woman picks up pieces of her destroyed homee

Upon arrival, we handed over the food supplies and our crew was split into two groups: one to check out the water system, the other to shovel houses out of the dirt and assist with reconstruction where possible. The shoveling looked a daunting and depressing task. What had been a small stream on a mountain slope, had grown to a rushing river of mud sprawling 20 to 30 feet across, levying trees, rocks, chunks of house, and a thick layer of personal debris. By the time we arrived there to help, the mud had congealed into a motionless sludge. The amount of work necessary to free the houses from their solidified mud baths was far more than our lively but small crew would manage in a day.

Further up the slope, where houses and a grain store with 76 bags of grain had been wiped out, little green shoots from the scattered maize seeds had started to sprout in the mud, like a sad little offer of 3 quetzales, where 300 000 were needed.

Corn shoots from destroyed grain shed
Corn shoots from destroyed grain shed

Our water assessment group first surveyed the pipes down by the community. PVC pipes of 1/2” inch diameter carried water from a holding tank and diverged to various groups of local houses. One of the pipes now completely dry, ran though a culvert which crossed beneath a main highway. Talking with Steve Crowe, AIDG’s Director of Technology, this seemed an almost hopefully bad location for the pipe as it appeared to be the most likely direction a landslide would head in. I say hopefully because as we surveyed the path of the pipes, we were looking for ways to improve the system. If AIDG were to supervise and fund the reconstruction of a new water system, we would attempt to increase the system’s resistance to future storms. This may be best achieved by installing the pipes on a less vulnerable route.

Broken pipe in the middle of a landslide
Broken pipe in the middle of a landslide

We headed further up the slope, and passed the site of the destroyed distribution tank. Previously, it had been fed by a large poliducto hose carrying water brought from smaller pipes that ran from about 10 different mountain springs, some as much as a three hour walk away. Everything at this point was dry. We continued on up the slope passing several pressure reducing manifolds that were also all dry.

At one point our path crossed a channel in the slope which was leaking water from the ground, suggesting that either a buried pipe had ruptured below or a new spring had opened up. Mostly however, the broken pipes that we encountered were split across more great landslides and were dry, indicating damage much further up the mountain, or complete redirection of the sources of water. A somewhat more grave situation than we had expected.

Another community's broken spring box
Another community’s broken spring box

Crossing the tumbling forest debris, it was evident that our previous assumption that deforestation was the cause of heavy landslides in this community, was not the case. Fully mature trees, rocks and roots, were caught in a frozen cascade down the mountain slope, and causes for specific areas of erosion were not at all apparent. So designing a more flood resistant system was looking tricky.

Finally we reached a fresh water mountain stream with several tubes run across it, two of them broken, but one at least with water pouring from one end carried from another stream further up the path. Our guides told us that this was the first of the many little sources of water which were scattered over the mountain side. We would need at least a full day of hiking to survey the full extent of the damage so as to begin a plan for repairs. We rejoined our companions below, an exhausted group with blistered hands, who had made a valiant dent in the side of the mountain of mud; and headed home with a better understanding of the devastation of Agatha.

AIDG volunteers taking a break from digging
AIDG volunteers taking a break from digging

I am not sure how plans to repair the pipelines will go. Replacement of the existing system as it is will be expensive. However with the frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes in Guatemala, and the country´s record of natural disaster in general, the need for a more reliable and resistant system is with question.

– Sadhbh MacMahon, AIDG mechanical engineering intern
Sadhbh Macmahon

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Tropical Storm Agatha Emergency Appeal

Guatemala Emergency Appeal after Tropical Storm Agatha

Housing collapse
Searching for survivors in a mudslide. Photo by Mercado Global

Dear AIDG Friends and Supporters,

Tropical storm Agatha, the first major storm of the 2010 Hurricane season has slammed Guatemala with devastation not seen since Hurricane Stan in 2005. The destruction has hit every department in Guatemala. According to Guatemalan government, tens of thousands of people are now homeless. Roads, bridges, water and food distribution have been severely disrupted. AIDG immediately responded by helping dig out houses in the Quetzaltenango department where we are based, but most of the damage has happened near Lake Atitlan.

AIDG is sent a team down last week to work with the Lake Atitlan based organization Mercado Global to assess damage and coordinate repairs on water systems for communities. Water is a critical need as pipes have been washed away and local water systems have been damaged. Here is a quote from Steve Crowe our Technology Director about the water system in Xaquijya.

“Things got a little more complicated when we walked the pipeline from the distribution tank to the springs. They had just assumed that it was broken in one part near the springs, but as we walked we passed 5 landslides where the pipe had broken . . . The complicated part would be in protecting the pipe that we put in; we’d have to cross those same landslide areas, which would be high risk for sure.”

He estimates a need for an immediate $30,000 to aid in water system rebuilding and another $15,000 for us to help repair hydro-electric systems damaged in the storm.

For AIDG, the twin disasters in both Haiti and Guatemala present the greatest challenge we have ever faced. We are supporting responses to both a once-in-a-decade storm and a once-in-a-century earthquake within a few months of each other. As most of you know, AIDG is not a direct relief agency so we have no budget for emergencies like this and rely on gifts at the time of the event to respond. But in our focus on infrastructure, we play a vital role in disaster response and development of community resiliency. We look to you to help us continue this work.

Donate Button

We need your help to respond to this disaster.

If you cannot give now, we ask that you consider giving a little bit of time to AIDG. One major source of funding for AIDG’s disaster response in Haiti has been corporate donations. This comes largely based on employee recommendations to a corporate giving department or to a small business owner. Please consider giving a lunch break to call your company’s charitable division to see if they have funds ($500 – $10,000) you could recommend to AIDG. Email us an introduction and we will be glad to send them detailed information on our programs. Corporate giving departments largely operate based on employee suggestions.

Thank you all for everything you have done over the years to help us build this program, and our capacity to respond in these emergencies. Please hold the families affected by this tragedy in your hearts and thoughts.

Sincerely,

Peter Haas

Aftermath of Tropical Storm Agatha
Photo by Mercado Global

Aftermath of Tropical Storm Agatha
Photo by AIDG

Aftermath of Tropical Storm Agatha
Photo by AIDG

Aftermath of Tropical Storm Agatha
Photo by Mercado Global

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Tropical Storm Agatha: AIDG responds – Xaquijyá Update [06/12/10]
Tropical Storm Agatha Update: AIDG’s response in Xaquijyá, Guatemala [06/09/10]