Rains across Peru destroy crops, small businesses, and thousands of homes

By Celia Aldana
Recent flooding destroyed houses in Huacarpay, Peru. Community members now are living in a temporary shelter on the higher ground surrounding Lake Huacarpay. Photo: Liesel Diolosa

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Heavy rainfall in Peru, with unprecedented amounts in the southern region of Cusco, has caused flooding and left widespread damage, including the destruction of more than 9,700 homes, tens of thousands of acres of crops, and numerous small businesses. Forty-three people have lost their lives and 26 are missing.

According to Peru's Civil Defense Institute, the rains have hit 18 of the country’s 24 regions, causing suffering to more than 190,000 people and damaging more than 28,000 homes. Particularly hard hit are communities located along the major Andean rivers in Cusco and Puno in the south.

With a $100,000 grant, Oxfam is supporting its local partner, PREDES, to help 529 families living in temporary shelters in the provinces of Anta, Calca, and Urubamba.

"At the moment, we're improving the temporary shelters to ensure they have clean water and basic sanitation, and so avoid major health problems", said Oxfam’s Elizabeth Cano, who is coordinating the humanitarian response for the organization.

Work includes the installation of separate toilets for men, women, and children as well as the distribution of hygiene kits equipped with basics such as toothpaste and soap. Oxfam and PREDES are also working with civil defense committees to help communities and local authorities improve coordination to be better prepared for future natural events.

"The only thing we haven't lost is our health and our lives,” said Eufemia Araníbar, a member of the Nueva Esperanza neighborhood committee in the district of Izcuchaca. "We haven't lost our children or our husbands. Everything else we can rebuild, because we have our health", she tells us firmly.

In Cusco, a night that won't be forgotten

In Cusco, on Saturday, Jan. 23, people were already looking with concern at the clouds in the sky and the swollen rivers. Persistent rain had caused the rivers to rise, particularly at their confluence points. In a matter of hours, the Vilcanota, Jatumayo and Huatanay rivers and Huacarpay Lake had overflowed.

"Since Saturday 23, we've been in a state of alert, protecting ourselves, putting sandbags along the edge of the river. But it overflowed upstream, where we didn't expect it, and the houses have collapsed,” said Urbana Huamán, a 43-year-old single mother from Anta Province, as she showed a team from Oxfam the curved shape of a nearby river and lamented the miscalculation.

While in some areas residents stayed on the alert, elsewhere they had observed a reduction in the turbulence of the river and, instead of going out to keep watch and put up barriers, they went to bed, assuming they were safe.

"During the night, the water came and caught us unaware,” said 34-year-old Eufemia Araníbar. “Some people were awake, digging ditches, but some of us were asleep. Suddenly we were woken up by shouting and whistling. When I stood up, I felt water on the floor. My shoes were already wet.”

The first thing she did was to get her children out.

"We couldn't save anything, just a few clothes,” added Araníbar. “The water took everything. It took my pigs, my guinea pigs, my chickens..." And with them she lost she lost her savings.

Since that January night, the rain has not stopped. In March, the Quesermayo, Antarhualla and Kitamayo rivers in Calca Province broke their banks. There have also been landslides and more homes have been destroyed.