Friday, October 8, 2010

There’s no such as “normal” weather in Guatemala…but trees can help!

An AIR-planted pine forest, about 8 years old in Simajhuleu, Guatemala, stopping a mudslide from the road above and protecting a stream and houses below (June 2010; photo: A. Hallum)

Last June we updated you how trees planted by our planting partner AIR in Guatemala help to mitigate some damages of Hurricane Agatha.

AIR is doing an incredible job in Guatemala in general, but in such situations its work is even more substantial. This is also a demonstration of the value of trees planted by AIR and their significant impact on people's life.

Dr. Anne Hallum, the Director of AIR, who was in Guatemala at that time with a team of volunteers to plant trees as this was the planting season, sent us a brief report, which is enclosed below, on the event with pictures that help to get a better understanding what happened there.

There’s no such as “normal” weather in Guatemala…but trees can help!

The last day of May, 2010, tropical storm Agatha poured so m
uch rain on south central Guatemala, it caused horrific flooding and mudslides that killed at least 145 people, washed away crops and highways, and hundreds of homes. Particularly hard hit was the Department of Chimaltenango where AIR works.

Some scientists speculate that climate change has changed the normal afternoon rains of the rainy season into intense “rain events.” It doesn’t help that decades of deforestation have worsened the mudslides, and that highway construction and gravel mining in the mountains takes down more trees, and safer engineering practices are not used.

In any case, the rains continued throughout the summer months (Guatemala’s “winter” months). In September “Tropical Depression 11-E” parked for days over the same area of Guatemala, and mudslides destroyed highways and one bus filled with persons was buried, killing at least 12 persons. One of AIR’s technicians was trapped on a road all night outside of Panajachel, with mudslides occurring around him.

What is to be done? First, AIR is responding with targeted emergency aid because the technicians are themselves Guatemalan and know the roads and villages very well. Secondly, volunteers have already been recruited to help rebuild homes—once it stops raining every day. Thirdly, the tree-planting efforts must intensify in these mountainous regions.

It was evident to everyone this summer, that where AIRES had reforested hillsides, the mudslides did not occur. In one village, a young pine forest that AIR had planted 8 years ago acted like brakes on a mudslide washing down a road and protected the stream and houses below. As the AIR technician said, “the little trees stood like soldiers” stopping the mud (photo).

AIR staff members & truck delivering food & water, in Santa Apolonia, 2 June 2010 (Photo: A. Hallum)

The benefits of trees seem innumerable – animal habitat, soil nutrition; shade; beauty; fertilizer; fruits, carbon sequestration—and this summer in Guatemala, they literally saved lives.

Josue, standing next to an AIR-planted forest in Simajhuleu, Guatemala; his family has worked with AIR for 10 years (Photo: A. Hallum)

AIR tree nursery; Santa Apolonia; Rebecca Hallum, Anne Hallum, with Luis Iquique and the resident committee, June 2010 (photo: A. Hallum)

For more information, and to donate for AIR’s emergency response, see

Raz @ Eco-Libris

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