Switzerland responds immediately to the emergency in Guatemala following storms ETA and IOTA

Humanitarian support was provided by the Lima Hub’s Rapid Support Intervention Group and the Local Emergency Teams, SDC’s partners in Central America

© Swiss Cooperation in Central America

Guatemala suffered the impact of tropical depressions Eta and Iota over a two-week period from 6-17 November 2020, when the rainy and hurricane season should have come to an end.  Many people were killed and thousands displaced, and the storms also destroyed homes, family property, bridges, roads, crops and livestock. The hardest-hit departments were Alta Verapaz, Huehuetenango, Quiché, Petén, Izabal, Zacapa and Chiquimula.

© Swiss Cooperation in Central America

SDC’s priority is to “strengthen the rule of law and human rights, promote economic development and establish measures to adapt to climate change by preventing potential impacts of natural hazards”. Central America is a region prone to hurricanes, irregular rainfall and prolonged dry periods, which have been exacerbated by climate change.

SDC coordinated the Lima Hub, the Humanitarian Aid Headquarters in Berne and the SDC Regional Office based in Managua (Nicaragua) to respond to the “International Appeal for Humanitarian Assistance” launched by Guatemala and channelled to SDC via the Swiss Embassy in Guatemala. In view of the magnitude of the disaster caused by Eta and Iota, SDC decided for the first time to mobilise a joint mission of the Rapid Support Intervention Group (GIAR) at the Lima Hub and its partner Local Emergency Teams (LET) in Central America.

Several Damage and Needs Assessments (DNAs) were conducted by national humanitarian agencies and the GIAR-LET team, which identified two levels of humanitarian need:

  • Immediate humanitarian needs to alleviate the suffering of the families that lost everything, families in shelters and those still cut off since December 2020 and who needed food, water, clothing, hygiene, health, psycho-social aid and protection.
  • Short-term humanitarian needs 2020-2021 for those families who lost everything and for those who suffered significant partial losses and still need food, clean water, health care and protection.

The intervention of the GIAR-LET team focused on the department of Alta Verapaz which, together with Izabal, was one of the Guatemalan departments hardest hit  by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. The already complex humanitarian intervention of the GIAR-LETs was further affected by the COVID-19 pandemic which posed a risk to the Swiss team and had weakened the communities’ food security, health and economic situation, aggravating the humanitarian challenges.

The GIAR-LET team provided humanitarian aid from 21 November to 19 December 2020. Its strategy was two-fold:

  • To provide immediate humanitarian assistance delivering humanitarian kits to 1,700 affected families in 14 municipalities of the Alta Verapaz Department. Each humanitarian kit was designed not only to alleviate suffering, but also to allow affected families to enjoy the Christmas holidays and the New Year. The kits consisted of food, COVID-19 hygiene and protection items and eco-water filters for 200 of the neediest families.

SDC distributed a total of 78 tonnes of humanitarian goods, the largest amount of support ever provided to the Department, with a value of about US$ 500,000.

  • A Swiss Humanitarian Aid Cash Transfer specialist conducted an assessment to provide a second phase of medium-term support to the most affected families. The cash support started in January 2021 for a total of US$ 900,000, and will provide for families over a period of six months. SDC is providing the aid through Tzuul Taq’a, a local organisation which was also involved in delivering SDC humanitarian goods.

The success of the first GIAR-LET collaboration inspired other national and international humanitarian agencies to continue to provide humanitarian assistance in Alta Verapaz, as given the weather and terrain many communities are still cut off, have received no humanitarian aid and may be flooded. Their humanitarian needs may continue for many more weeks or even months. The livelihoods of these communities were also severely affected and it seems unlikely that they will be able to recover with the current economic conditions and COVID-19.

For further information, watch this video:


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La Agencia Suiza para el Desarrollo y la Cooperación (COSUDE) es la entidad encargada de la cooperación internacional dentro del Departamento Federal de Asuntos Exteriores (DFAE). Con otras oficinas de la Confederación, la COSUDE es responsable de la coordinación general de la cooperación para el desarrollo y de la cooperación con los Países del Este, así como de los programas de ayuda humanitaria suizos.