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PISCO, PERU—One month after a deadly earthquake struck western Peru, international aid agency Oxfam has called on the government of Peru to ensure that reconstruction leaves the area less vulnerable to future tragedy when natural disasters strike.
As the emergency response begins to shift to rebuilding destroyed towns and villages, Oxfam International urged national and local authorities to take measures to reduce risk in the earthquake-prone country.
Oxfam staff working in the districts of Pisco, Humay, and Independencia have already observed that some families in affected areas have begun rebuilding their homes. They are using the same fragile materials, such as mud bricks and bamboo, to construct their new homes as before, leaving them equally vulnerable to damage and collapse if another earthquake hits.
“Reconstructing the area in the same way, in the same places, using the same materials, is a recipe for a future disaster. Government authorities must ensure that communities are informed of the basic guidelines on how to rebuild their homes to make them more resistant to severe damage or collapse,” said Jacobo Ocharán, an Oxfam Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist. “As reconstruction begins, people must learn how to build affordable earthquake-resistant structures. Our work in risk reduction in El Salvador has shown us that taking these low-cost measures can help to prevent such destruction from happening again.”
Oxfam is currently carrying out its emergency response providing clean water, sanitation services and other assistance to people in urban and remote rural areas. Once it moves into the reconstruction phase, Oxfam will also take on disaster risk reduction in quake-affected areas, tapping into its experience helping local governments in northern Peru build their capacity to respond to increasingly frequent flash floods caused by El Niño.
The national government’s reconstruction fund, FORSUR, has recently announced that, over the next one to two years, it will be providing 6,000 earthquake-resistant houses for families who lost their homes during last month’s quake, and may be providing subsidies for others to help them rebuild their lives. According to figures released by the government, nearly 45,000 homes were destroyed in the quake, and more than 13,000 were damaged.
“Families who are unable to access government-provided, earthquake-resistant houses will require extra help in learning how to make their new homes much stronger than they were before. Authorities must communicate that simple measures can be taken such as reinforcing mud bricks with straw or other fibers, improving bricklaying techniques and using light-weight roofing materials”, said Ocharán. “Most importantly, seismic experts must evaluate the ground in the region to determine whether part of the population needs to be relocated to sturdier areas.”
Some recovery, but much remains to be done
Efforts to help the population recover have vastly improved over the last month. Most affected families now have access to temporary shelter and community kitchens. However, life remains far from normal. Electricity is gradually being restored in the affected area but water provision in the city is still inadequate. Also, many sewers were destroyed in the urban areas and have not yet been repaired. Students who attend schools that were damaged are waiting for temporary classrooms to be built so they can return to their studies.
Economic activity is resuming slowly. Some fishermen have returned to the seas after repairing their boats. Yet many people continue to hang in the balance. The cotton harvest, which usually starts in late August, has been postponed due to possible irrigation water and electricity shortages. Several other industries have been indefinitely interrupted leaving many people in the region without an income.
Although no major illnesses have been reported, sanitation breaks in affected areas continue to present great health risks. Additional latrines are needed to ensure that public health problems do not develop, as are improvements in hygiene facilities for families living in tent camps and other temporary homes without access to showers.
Oxfam International is working with EMA Pisco, the municipal water enterprise, to provide the population with clean water. Additionally, the agency is working in San Miguel, a shantytown near Pisco where 400 families live. Before the earthquake, they had running water in their homes for only 30 minutes each day. Oxfam is providing them with a 45,000-liter water tank that now allows these families access to water for most of the day. Oxfam has also distributed 200 tents and temporary shelter materials to Humay, Independencia, and Túpac Amaru.
“As the rebuilding begins, we must make sure that communities are better off than before by providing better water systems and ensuring that new homes are more structurally sound than they were in the past. It is essential that authorities involved in the reconstruction engage with the local population to avoid spontaneous rebuilding by families and individuals. People must be aware of how to prevent such a tragedy from happening again,” said Ocharán.