Situation Assessment in Villa Nueva: Prospects for an Urban Disaster Risk Reduction Program in Guatemala City's Precarious Settlements

Dr. Rebekah Green Dr. Scott Miles Walter Svekla
Publication language
Date published
01 Jul 2009
Research, reports and studies
Disaster preparedness, resilience and risk reduction, Disaster risk reduction, Disasters, Targeting, Identification and Profiling, Urban


In 2009, Oxfam-Great Britain in Guatemala asked The Resilience Institute of Western Washington University to conduct a situation assessment of two informal communities in the outskirts of Guatemala City, Guatemala. Oxfam sought to assess the potential for developing an urban disaster risk reduction program within the metropolitan’s precarious settlements – informal settlements along the steep embankments of ravines. These settlements are often rapidly constructed overnight using temporary materials, with little possibility for considering the prevalent risk of landslides and seismic activity. Because residents build these squatter settlements without municipal approval, the settlements are considered illegal and often remain un-serviced for years.
The situation assessment took place in two pilot communities, located 16 kilometers south of the capital Guatemala City in the municipality Villa Nueva. More specifically they are located in the El Mezquital area and are called Las Brisas and Unidos 8 de Marzo. There, as elsewhere in the region, precarious squatter settlements experience seasonal landslides, heavy rains, and reoccurring damage to their property. The situation assessment included 65 household surveys, a physical risk assessment, community focus group discussions, and meetings with national emergency management representatives, local universities, research institutions, and municipal planning department. The situation assessment formed a basis on which the Resilience Institute has worked with Oxfam-Great Britain in Guatemala to formulate an initial disaster risk reduction framework. This framework is applicable for many communities in Guatemala and the rest of Latin America, and is elaborated on in a
separate document.

The following section gives a brief overview of informal settlements in Guatemala, and in El Mezquital in particular. This is followed by a detailed analysis of the household survey, a summary of the focus group discussions, three case studies of settlement households, and a brief institutional analysis. The document concludes with a brief synthesis of the work, through a discussion of 4 emerging themes and a brief discussion about prospects for urban DRR in Guatemala City. Strategies for implementing a DRR program are more fully elaborated in the companion document – Urban DRR Framework for Guatemala’s Precarious Settlements.