Coffee, disasters and social–ecological resilience in Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico

Hallie Eakin, Helda Morales, Edwin Castellanos, Gustavo Cruz-Bello, Juan F. Barrera

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The Mesoamerican region is particularly susceptible to hazards and natural disasters (Dilley et al., 2005). In early October 2005, Stan developed as the twentieth cyclone of a record-breaking hurricane season in the Atlantic (Unisys Weather Information System, 2010), causing great devastation and human loss. In Guatemala, an estimated half a million people were directly affected and total economic losses were calculated at US$983 million, equivalent to 3.4 per cent of the GDP for 2004 (CEPAL, 2005). Over the last decade, the region has been hit by a series of substantial storms. In 1998, hurricane Mitch poured heavy rains on saturated soils and produced a toll of 268 dead and 121 missing persons and economic losses of US$748 million in Guatemala alone (CEPAL, 1999; 2010). In May of 2010, tropical storm Agatha hit southern Mexico and Guatemala, once again causing a series of mudslides and flooding that resulted in ninety-six casualties and sixty-two missing persons. Climate change scenarios for the region suggest damages will continue as global temperatures rise (Webster et al., 2005; Knutson et al., 2010), and the threat of continued losses is increasingly viewed as a threat to national security for the countries of the region (Fetzek, 2009). The determinants of vulnerability in the region are complex. Despite the level of losses associated with mudslides and flooding, hurricane landfalls are surprisingly infrequent in Guatemala and the southern Mexican state of Chiapas (Jáuregui, 2003). Hurricane winds are typically slowed to the level of tropical storms or depressions by the mountainous terrain of the region. This terrain, with sandy, volcanic soils, is nevertheless highly unstable, resulting in mudslides that are the main cause of the casualties and destruction (Restrepo and Alvarez, 2006). The populations that make their livelihoods on these steep slopes are often the most sensitive to these impacts, yet as resource managers with long histories in the region, they are also a potentially vital source of social and ecological resilience. In this case study, we explore the opportunities for enhancing disaster preparedness through better use of local knowledge and the social infrastructure of some of the regions’ more vulnerable populations: The smallholder coffee farmers that make their livings on land highly susceptible to mudslides, erosion and flooding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNatural Disasters and Adaptation to Climate Change
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9780511845710
ISBN (Print)9781107010161
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


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