PAHO/WHO Director, Dr. Mirta Roses, with the mayor of La Gomera and other authorities from Escuintla, Guatemala at the inauguration of a retrofitted health facility.

Although Hurricane Stan was never more than a category one storm, the heavy rainfall (as opposed to hurricane-strength winds) in the mountainous regions of Guatemala caused devastating landslides and along the coast, and the torrential rains caused rivers to overflow, producing widespread flooding. Because the hardest hit areas were rural, it was health centers and health posts that were most severely damaged. With many health centers already in a precarious state due to lack of maintenance, the rains destroyed or damaged the roofs, causing leaking that damaged electrical systems and equipment. In some health centers, standing water reached a height of one meter.

The Ministry of Health, with support from PAHO/WHO, took many measures to reduce post-disaster threats to health, including rehabilitating water and sanitation systems and stepping up epidemiological surveillance and disease control programs. One of the most important tasks involved an assessment of damage—structural, non-structural and functional—to 40 health centers in the seven hardest hit departments.

The retrofitting of these health facilities took into consideration the importance of reducing its future vulnerability by paying special attention, for example, to where the health center was located. Care was also taken to ensure that the modest repairs would help the health facility to withstand the next hurricane or flood. New roofs were properly secured; downspouts and drainage canals were added; electrical systems were repaired and tested; and in facilities that were not affected, water and sanitation systems were checked to make sure they would not be affected in the next disaster.