Ixchel: Building understanding of the physical, cultural and socio-economic drivers of risk for strengthening resilience in the Guatemalan cordillera

Project Details


This project is based on in-depth research in rural and indigenous communities in the cordillera of Guatemala (volcanic arc and southern highlands) that are located close to active volcanoes and in the vicinity of Lake Atitlán. This region has an extraordinarily high level of hazard exposure that intersects with, and is exacerbated by, existing forms of socio-economic vulnerability. People die, suffer and lose livelihoods in disasters in part because of Guatemala's geological and climatological conditions that make it prone to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes, as well as frequent landslides during the rainy season. The dynamic and interactive nature of these risks are still poorly understood. There is then an urgent need to gain better understandings of physical processes and, in particular, of multihazard interactions in the Guatemalan context from a scientific perspective. However, this hazard exposure cannot be separated from long histories of landlessness, state-led violence and genocide that manifest themselves today in colonial and discriminatory attitudes towards poor indigenous and mixed race (ladino) Guatemalans. Such attitudes result in failures by authorities to protect, warn, evacuate survivors, exhume and properly count the dead, and to relocate or rehouse people with dignity and in culturally appropriate ways. These experiences also mean that local people often do not trust state agencies or western science, and indigenous peoples also have their own knowledge systems and modes of understanding risk and resilience that they deem to be more reliable. The losses and complexities of recent disasters such as the June 2018 eruption of the Fuego volcano and the building of resilient communities urgently require research that brings physical sciences into dialogue not only with social sciences and humanities, but also with diverse cosmovisions and beliefs. This project involves a close collaboration between physical scientists, social scientists, humanities scholars and Guatemalan community leaders in communities exposed to multiple forms of risk. It is based on a shared commitment to reduce the suffering caused by hazards and disasters but involves people who work with very different epistemic, theoretical and methodological approaches and knowledge frameworks. We ask whether we can better understand risk and do research that is both respectful and useful to local people by putting these different knowledge systems on an equal footing. We will therefore combine quantitative monitoring techniques with artistic and ethnographic work and a range of community engagement activities. The scientific and the cultural will be combined in a 8-episode television series produced in collaboration with local organizations, actors and media makers in which the complexity of rural community lives and livelihoods of indigenous peoples living with risk will be ethically represented and followed up by a range of outreach activities in community spaces and on radio, television and social media. We will produce a cultural product that will provoke high levels of audience engagement and debate by scientists, community members, development practitioners, emergency managers and government agents.
StatusNot started


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