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"Economics of Diversity - Collective Responses to Disaster in Guatemala."

This is the recap by Frank Robinson, of a presentation by Dr. Walter E. Little, at the September 9th, 2018 CDHS monthly meeting.

            

Little explained that he has visited Guatemala annually for the last thirty years, mainly studying textiles, and his talk was originally supposed to be about textiles and fair trade. But during his most recent trip, on June 3, 2018, he happened to be in the vicinity when the Fuego volcano erupted, with considerable devastation, and several hundred apparently killed.

The government response was pretty ineffective. Guatemala's government is mired in corruption, with a long history of civil war and atrocities. It sounded the alarm via a tweet -- which almost nobody in the affected area saw. Indeed, internet service in Guatemala is poor even in normal circumstances, and during this disaster, it was fairly useless for communication. Consequently, the local population was on its own. But, in Little's telling, they rose to the occasion.

He commented that when there's a disaster in a Third World country, all the "ugliness" will be expected to manifest as people compete for resources. But something different happened here, with communities mobilizing to help in a way that was unparalleled. Local organizations like a flying club, motorcycle club, church groups, etc., worked together with tourists, hotel workers, retirees, and others. (Little noted that, as is typical in "indigenous" societies, women played key roles running things -- generally behind the scenes, while men tend to hog the limelight.)

Little said that even the Guatemalan military -- in pretty bad odor for the long history of atrocities perpetrated -- got high marks among locals for its effective participation in the relief effort. But major relief organizations did less well. They really didn't know what they were doing, and "just sent stuff." Like a lot of used clothing -- when in fact, Guatemala was buried in clothing, having been a dumping ground for used clothing supplies. It was necessary to get out, on the ground, to ask people what was needed. Which some local volunteers did.

Water, for example, was a major need, since local water infrastructure was much affected by the eruption. But generally, in cases of this sort, what is really most needed is money, rather than any specific "in kind" donations.

 

Frank Robinson (edit- E.B.)

 

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