When Hurricane Mitch
stalled over the Central American isthmus in 1998, the heavy torrents of rain it delivered ummoored whole hillsides, burying villages and flooding cities across the region. An incredible 10,000 people died. The event was reported, understandably, as a natural disaster. But while hurricanes are indisputably a force of nature, the incredible death toll seemed to require more explanation. The answer -- no secret among environmental scientists -- had a lot to do with poor land management and especially deforestation. Countries like Honduras have seen half their forests dissapear in recent decades due to a mixture of illegal logging, slash-and-burn agriculture and the widespread practice of cutting wood for fuel.
A similar scenario has played out with Hurricane Stan
, which lingered over Central America for days, but dumped only about half as much rain on Guatemala as Mitch had. Even that was catastrophic. Again, whole villages have been lost and scores of thousands are without shelter. In the village of Tacana on the Guatemala/Mexico border (pictured above), residents took shelter in two churches, which were subsequently buried when the denuded hillsides above the town gave way.