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Peru struggles to recover from heavy rains

Briseida Mendoza: “Living in a tent for almost 60 days is no life.” Photo: Flor Ruiz/Oxfam

Two months after millions are affected by floods, many are still living in temporary shelters.

Briseida Mendoza was asleep with her husband and four children in March when heavy rains caused the nearby La Leche River to flood, which destroyed their home. “My house was made of adobe and when the flood came, it cracked the walls … so much water came in suddenly that they fell,” Mendoza, 30, says. She and her family found shelter in a hut with a metal roof briefly, until they found a tent. They were still sleeping in it in May. “Living in a tent for almost 60 days is no life,” she says.

Mendoza and her family live in Peru’s northern Lambayeque region, and are among nearly a million Peruvians affected by heavy rains and flooding in February and March. Oxfam estimates that 31,000 people displaced by flooding are still living in temporary tents, or under plastic sheets. Forty-two thousand homes were destroyed across the country, according to official sources. More than 100 people lost their lives in flash floods and landslides. The weather destroyed schools, roads, bridges, and in the days and weeks following the disaster the government declared emergencies in 12 of the country’s 24 regions (mostly near the coast) and has struggled to mobilize the equipment and other resources to evacuate survivors and repair roads and infrastructure.    

In the days immediately following the floods, Oxfam’s humanitarian response staff member Elizabeth Cano reported that people displaced by the disaster had “little to no access to health services because of flooded health centers and the fact that no field hospitals have been set up.” In many areas, sewage systems were badly affected, leaving survivors vulnerable to water-borne diseases like cholera. Low-lying, poorly drained flooded areas are likely to spread mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever, malaria, chikungunya, and the Zika virus.    

Oxfam and partners respond

For many years Oxfam has supported the work of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Disasters in Peru (known by the Spanish acronym PREDES) to organize local disaster prevention committees and respond to emergencies. Oxfam also works with local nongovernmental organization CEPRODAMINGA, which has implemented community-based early warning systems for floods, while assisting local committees in disaster prevention and public health. Following the recent heavy rains, Oxfam, CEPRODAMINGA, and PREDES shifted gears from prevention to humanitarian response. To date, they have delivered a total of 1,997 family kits that include personal hygiene items, drinking water buckets with taps and tight lids, and mosquito nets. In addition, 40 families that lost all their belongings received a prefabricated wooden two-room house.

Briseida Mendoza and her family and many others in Lambayeque are under pressure from the local government to vacate the temporary shelters in public areas and go home, but the site where she used to live is exposed to future floods and therefore declared not suitable for rebuilding. The municipality owns no safe land where effected families can rebuild their homes   

Peru’s central government has launched a three-year, $6.4 billion “reconstruction with changes” plan. The plan intends to rebuild infrastructure that will withstand heavy rains and last 50 years. The plan includes social housing schemes for effected families, based on the assumption that local governments make available safe and suitable land. In municipalities that do not have unoccupied building plots, it is unclear what solutions they will provide to effected families, and how effected people will be consulted.

“It is encouraging that Peru’s government has allocated significant resources to post-disaster reconstruction and that it shows commitment to high-quality standards of infrastructure works,” says Frank Boeren, director of Oxfam in Peru. “The reconstruction plan will benefit from clearer mechanisms for bottom-up participation so that affected people can force their authorities to listen to what their priorities are.”

When disasters strike, Oxfam and our partners on the ground need to be ready to respond.

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