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Rescue workers search in El Rodeo, one of the hamlets in the disaster area near the Volcan de Fuego, or "Volcano of Fire," in Escuintla, Guatemala, Tuesday, June 5, 2018. The fiery volcanic eruption in south-central Guatemala killed scores as rescuers struggled to reach people where homes and roads were charred and blanketed with ash.
Rodrigo Abd/AP
Citizenship

Guatemala's Deadly Volcanic Eruption Has Affected Poor Communities the Most

At least 109 people have been found dead after Volcán de Fuego (Fuego volcano) erupted in southern Guatemala last week. The fast-moving lava flows tore through the villages at the foot of the mountain, engulfing homes and destroying communities.

Among those most affected are those in the area who live in poverty.

The people in the villages near the Fuego volcano live where most would not choose to — in the range of three active volcanoes. However, because of the volcanoes, the land in the area is cheap, enticing farmers who cannot afford better land and Indigenous and rural communities displaced from their lands.

Take Action: Call on World Leaders to Help Millions of People Affected by Extreme Weather

“My father was a peasant and he bought land [in the village of Santa Rosa] because it was cheap,” Amanda Santizo, whose family was displaced by the eruption, told the Christian Science Monitor.

About half the people who live near the Fuego volcano, in the Escuintla department (district), are considered poor.

But it’s not just the location of their homes that has made the Fuego volcano’s eruption so deadly for the poor communities living in the area. The Guatemalan government has been criticized for its handling of the situation, particularly for its failure to evacuate the villages around the volcano in a timely manner, the New York Times reported.

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Karin Slowing, a former planning and budget secretary for the Guatemalan government, told the New York Times that efforts to evacuate the areas are difficult to carry out without accurate data.

“There is not even a census,” Slowing said. “What evacuation plans can you have when you don’t know how many communities there are, how many people there are, how many children, how many elderly people?”

But the fact that the communities hardest hit by this natural disaster are poor is not unique to Guatemala.

Read more: 12 Natural Disasters That Broke Our Hearts in 2017

More than 10 years after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States, displacing more than 1 million people, many low-income communities are still struggling to recover. In New Orleans, Louisiana, four of the city’s poorest neighborhoods remain largely empty, having been abandoned, Mother Jones reported.

In the typhoon-prone Philippines, the poorest and most marginalized communities — many of whom live in informal settlements in structures that have not been disaster-proofed — are typically the most devastated by extreme weather events.

Around the world, poor communities often live in areas at high risk of natural disasters because it is cheaper to do so. Not only are people with lower incomes more likely to live in disaster-prone areas, they are also more likely to live homes with substandard infrastructure that is less resilient in the face of extreme weather events and other natural disasters, the Brookings Institution reported. These communities also tend to have fewer resources to respond to and recover from disasters.

While extreme weather events are a force of nature that can’t be stopped, efforts to address climate change can help prevent the worsening of such phenomena. And by tackling poverty at its root causes, the effects of natural disasters can be better mitigated, saving lives in these devastating situations.

Global Citizen campaigns in support of the Global Goals, which call for climate action and improved infrastructure and disaster preparedness. You can take action here to call on world leaders to help those affected by extreme weather events.