Sunday, August 26, 2012

When a home is worth the risk of disaster

La Prensa

Tough choices. Let squatters build wood shanties on the banks of flood-prone rivers, even though they might die in the rainy season. Or push them on to Lord knows where.
In El Progreso about 100 families have settled on the banks of the Pelo River, cobbling together wood houses and planting gardens, La Prensa reported. It’s a common practice across Honduras, as people without money look for a free place to live., often on the banks of rivers and streams that could flow their banks.
The El Progreso families are building on deadly land. In 1989, Hurricane Mitch caused floods that swept 200 homes on the same site - and several people - into the muddy, raging river.
Mitch and the 2009 coup seem to be defining moments for Honduras. The country is usually touched by several hurricanes a year, mostly in the coastal regions. But Hurricane Mitch was ferocious and, critically, its progress stalled over Honduras, bringing days of rain - 18 inches in one day in one city - and damaging winds. Some 6,500 people were killed, about 20 per cent of the population was left homeless and 70 to 80 per cent of the transportation infrastructure destroyed. The president of the day estimated it knocked out 50 years worth of progress in a week. And it seems burned in many Hondurans’ minds as both a turning point for the country and a reminder of the its vulnerability to disaster.
CODEM, the municipal disaster planning agency, wants the squatters gone. Officials say even in normal rains they’re in danger, from flooding and collapsing river banks that will bring their houses down. Even prevention efforts, liked deepening the river channel, could destroy the houses.
Fine, say the families. Where will we go?
Maria Angela Guerrero told La Prensa she and her family settled on the river back because they ha nowhere to live and no money for rent.
"All of us here are aware of the danger we run in winter,” she said. “If the mayor wants to evicts us he will have to relocate us in a safe place," she said.
The World Bank says 18 per cent of Hondurans live on less $1.40 a day. Rent is impossible, so throwing up a shack - of wood, or corrugated tin or, with luck, adobe - is the only option. Some landowners don’t seem to mind. Other people, like the river community, choose public land. (There is a whole separate post to be done on land occupations across the country by organized campesino protests.)
The houses are often grim looking, without electricity or water. Life inside would be dark and dismal, with little real shelter in bad weather and no protection from insects.
But any house - even one that might get swept away when the river rises - is better than none. 

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