Understanding the Struggle in the Aftermath of a Landslide

Update January 25, 2016:

We are putting together a volunteer response team to build a new house for one of the families affected by the disaster. See the event and sign up here. More details to come!

Update January 14, 2016:

As of January 2016, Habitat for Humanity Guatemala has been authorized to buy 10 plots of land for 10 families who lost their homes in the landslide. Habitat Guatemala has been working closely with families, community leaders, other non-governmental organizations, and the Guatemalan government to restore livelihoods as soon as possible. We are very eager for these families to be living in their own homes again. To find out how you can help in this process, send an email to our development team at

On the first of October, a tragic landslide destroyed or threatened 200 homes, and left nearly 450 people without a place to stay. The disaster affected the town of El Cambray, right outside of Guatemala City, the capital. Many people were forced say a sad farewell to their family members, as nearly 300 died in the incident. How does Habitat Guatemala respond to disaster?

Part of the tragedy of the situation is that the families were warned of danger – but few heeded the warnings. Why? A major issue is at play:

There is an affordable housing deficit.

That is to say, residents of El Cambray had nowhere else to go. Most residents probably could not have afforded to rent or own another home. At Habitat for Humanity, we’re working to reduce the housing deficit.

A lack of funds paired with overpopulation and a housing deficit often forces people to live in areas that are not ideal. In the area around Guatemala City, there is sparce flat land for constructing homes. It’s not very hospitable for large quantities of housing, but that doesn’t stop people from taking the risk to build their houses on the slopes of the hills, where property is cheaper. Or in the case of El Cambray, the village was located in a gulley between two steep hills, a prime spot for landslides.

Guatemalan sprawlPeople continue flooding into Guatemala City, above, from other parts of the country in hopes that they may escape poverty – or find any job at all. Often, they end up compromising their safety for cheaper housing by living on the side of a slope.

But now that so many people from El Cambray have lost their homes and their village has officially been deemed uninhabitable, where do they go? What do they do?

In the aftermath of the situation, Habitat for Humanity is working together with local organizations and the Guatemalan government to help restore housing for the 450 people. As of late November, we are currently in the process of buying plots of land and equipping them with water and electricity services.

Fortunately, the Guatemalan government has also responded to the situation by setting aside 20 million Quetzales, or 2.6 million US dollars.

Guatemala is considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and natural disasters. Habitat for Humanity helps reduce the risks that disasters pose by using the highest grade cement block paired with earthquake-resistant designs. Learn more here.