"The need obliged us" : culture as capacity during the Hurricane Stan emergency response. A case study from Tectitan, Huehuetenango, Guatemala
Date of Award
Master of Science in Geology (MS)
College, School or Department Name
Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences
William I. Rose
A major deficiency in disaster management plans is the assumption that pre-disaster civil-society does not have the capacity to respond effectively during crises. Following from this assumption a dominant emergency management strategy is to replace weak civil-society organizations with specialized disaster organizations that are often either military or Para-military and seek to centralize decision-making. Many criticisms have been made of this approach, but few specifically addresses disasters in the developing world. Disasters in the developing world present unique problems not seen in the developed world because they often occur in the context of compromised governments, and marginalized populations. In this context it is often community members themselves who possess the greatest capacity to respond to disasters. This paper focuses on the capacity of community groups to respond to disaster in a small town in rural Guatemala. Key informant interviews and ethnographic observations are used to reconstruct the community response to the disaster instigated by Hurricane Stan (2005) in the municipality of Tectitán in the Huehuetenango department. The interviews were analyzed using techniques adapted from grounded theory to construct a narrative of the events, and identify themes in the community’s disaster behavior. These themes are used to critique the emergency management plans advocated by the Guatemalan National Coordination for the Reduction of Disasters (CONRED). This paper argues that CONRED uncritically adopts emergency management strategies that do not account for the local realities in communities throughout Guatemala. The response in Tectitán was characterized by the formation of new organizations, whose actions and leadership structure were derived from “normal” or routine life. It was found that pre-existing social networks were resilient and easily re-oriented meet the novel needs of a crisis. New or emergent groups that formed during the disaster utilized social capital accrued by routine collective behavior, and employed organizational strategies derived from “normal” community relations. Based on the effectiveness of this response CONRED could improve its emergency planning on the local-level by utilizing the pre-existing community organizations rather than insisting that new disaster-specific organizations be formed.
Silverman, Jesse, ""The need obliged us" : culture as capacity during the Hurricane Stan emergency response. A case study from Tectitan, Huehuetenango, Guatemala ", Master's Thesis, Michigan Technological University, 2011.