No International Aide Coming Into Guatemala After Agatha

No International Aide Coming Into Guatemala After Agatha

Environmentalist Juan Skinner said Lake Atitlan “hit hard” but Guatemalen government and international community not responding

By Greg Szymanski, JD
June 26, 2010

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Agatha where 275 died and thousands remain homeless, there is little or no aide international aide coming in, especially in the Lake Atitlan region.

This report was confirmed by Guatemalen environmentalist Juan Skinner who said the “lack of help” in the wake of this latest disaster could lead to widespread starvation — even famine like conditions — due to crop failures, sky rocketing food prices and the lack of basic necessities for the already impoverished indigenous people.

Digging Out At Village In Lake Atitlan -- Photo by Bill Muirhead

“There has been little or no international aide,” said Skinner Saturday on a U.S. radio show called The Indigenous Peoples Report on broadcast on satellite and several AM Florida stations.

“Government officials have been getting on television saying help is on the way, but it never comes. I really don’t think they know the gravity of the problem and haven’t even taken a proper assessment here in Lake Atitlan to really know what kind of help is needed.”

Skinner’s reports have been verified by the non profit poverty relief group, Save Lake Atitlan Mission, trying to spread the word internationally through news reports and radio broadcasts that help is need in Guatemala.

Smiling In The Face OF Disaster -- Photo by Bill Muirhead

Local residents have reported to the Mission widespread death and destruction throughout the Lake Atitlan region and its 12 villages surrounding the lake.

Local resident Bill Muirhead recently reported directly from Lake Atitlan where news travels slowly and one village across the lake may have no idea what is going on the other side, according to residents who have said severe mudslides have greatly hampered travel and communication.

“I was recently in Santa Catarina (3 dead), San Antonio (22, I think, dead), and San Lucas (10 dead) the day following the disaster. I went to Pampojila, where I saw two bodies dug up, to Colonia la Esperanza, where six were interred, and to all of the affected colonias of San Lucas,” said Muirhead who is still on the scene at Lake Atitlan helping hundreds opf people still living in shelters.

Boy Clings To CHicken After Agatha -- Photo by Bill Muirhead

“I visited its eight shelters, where I saw about 1000 people, most of whom I already knew. Many picked coffee in Pampojila. The women wash clothes in Las Conchitas and El Relleno.

“This week I also visited Aldea Pixabaj, where 160 homes were buried by mud-slides or washed away by the rio Candelaria. I’ve seen Chuasnahi (San Pedro la Laguna), which lost a 12 year-old girl and 75 houses. I’ve seen Tzununa, Santa Cruz, and San Marcos this week too. Tzununa was fairly hard hit, but the others, no.

In the Lake Atitlan region, where 12 villages and 60,000 people surround the lake and another 150,000 live in the highlands, thousands of people lost their homes, more than 30 deaths have been reported and thousands of people are still living in shelters.

“It’s going to be a long haul to get things back to normal, ” said Dwight Poage, local resident and head of Mayan Families, another relief organization working in the Lake atitlan region.

He added people will be rebuilding and talking about Agatha for years. This adds to Skinner’s feeliings that Agatha was actually worse than Hurricane Stan that devastated Guatemala in 2005.

Flooded Soccer Field In San Lucas -- Photo by Bill Muirhead

Poage went on to say that people remain “extremely nervous” about the upcoming months since the storm came at the early part of the rainy season, leaving a big window of four months till dry and warm weather returns.

“A lot can happen in four months and since Agatha hit it has been raining more than usual leaving the ground very unstable,” added Poage, who also lost part of his house from mudslides caused by Agatha.

“Several friends of mine on the Lake reported they had to change course or lose their propellers from the football size islands of trash now floating on the lake,” said Poage.

The huge citings of trash are the result of “storm run-off” from Agathaadding to an already severely polluted Lake Atitlan.

Besides Agatha, the Lake Atitlan region has serious pollution and poverty problems to contend with unfortunately taking a back seat to the immediate needs and devastation from Agatha.

Mud Still Lines Streets In Lake Atitlan -- Photo by Bill Muirhead

Environmentalist from the region, Juan Skinner, said the added storm run-off and pollution from Agatha isn’t going to help the toxic cyanobacteria problem plaguing the lake.

“The toxic green algae is going to return when the warm weather comes and it could come back even worse than last year,” said Skinner, who live in the Lake Atitlan region.

He added no solutions have been put into place to correct raw sewage run off pouring into the lake daily as well as toxic run-off from the use of chemical fertilizers from the surrounding farmlands.

Once known as the most beautiful lake in the world, now Lake Atitlan, a 1000′ deep volcanic lake 130 square km in size, has been taken over by a massive bloom of cyanobacteria that entered its toxic phase ending the basic source of water for the thousands of lake shore inhabitants as well as halting the livelihood of indigenous fisherman. Authorities on lake pollution in a recent gathering at Istanbul listed Lake Atitlan as the world’s most threatened lake in 2009.

With haphazard garbage collection and no raw sewage treatment, the once crystal clear water is now undrinkable.

In October 2009, 85 per cent of the lake’s surface was covered with a green algae scum, cutting tourism by 75 per cent, according to local reports.

Editor’s Note: If you want to help out financially for the people in Lake Atitlan, click the donate button on this web site or go to and do the same. Money will get directly to those who need it in Atitlan.

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