Guatemala: relief efforts still ongoing one week after the eruption. Fr. De Nardi (Salesian), “it will take months to assess the full extent of damage”

One week after the eruption of the Fuego volcano in Guatemala, we are still far from having a full picture of the damage and loss of life. Caritas continues to provide assistance, and yesterday it was given a piece of land by the authorities in Escuintla, on which to build a shelter for those who were left homeless. But rescue operations are hindered by the still vigorous volcanic activity. “Unfortunately – Father Giampiero De Nardi, a Salesian missionary in Guatemala, told SIR news agency -, it will take at least six months to assess the full extent of damage”. The religious is in San Benito, a town in El Petén department, in the north of the country, far away from the volcano. But he can provide a detailed picture of what is happening: “I see great solidarity – he said –, the country has mobilized”. But it is difficult, as noted earlier, to estimate the number of victims: “There are surprising differences between the official data (about a hundred people dead and 200 missing) and some estimates (with reports of thousands of victims, editor’s note). But the civil registry here is far from accurate. When I first arrived in San Benito, the town where I currently live, I was told there were 23 to 25 thousand faithful. But the following year, as many as 57,000 people registered on the electoral roll! That is why it is very difficult to estimate how many people are still buried under the ashes”.

The damage is huge from all points of view: “The affected area is densely populated, and is one of the few in the country with a fairly developed agriculture; it is the most fertile area in Guatemala and an economic lung for this country which is very poor on average. Well, what will be the effects of the eruption in the long term? I think, for example, of the toxic gases that have been released, the volcanic material that has been scattered for miles around. What will be the damage to human health, agriculture, and the livestock?”. The eruption is exacerbating the already critical economic and social situation in Guatemala. “It is the only Central American country in which poverty has increased in recent years – the Salesian said – with a very large gap between the few rich and the many poor. The Government is virtually absent, suffice it to say that in an area with a high seismic risk and full of volcanoes, there was no budget for natural disasters; they have passed a law now, in just a few days. And corruption is very high, even compared to other countries in the region”.