‘Peru as the Aleph of Borges, is in small format the whole world: What an extraordinary privilege that of a country that has no identity because it has all!’.
Mario Vargas LLosa.
I arrived to North Peru from Ecuador around mid-February. At that time the sun was shining, the streets were full of travelers and locals, and nobody could have imagine what was about to happen. Not even a month later the worst flooding in decades hit the country. The aftermath; over 106 people have lost their lives, 354 have been injured, at least 20 are missed, about 155.000 have lost their houses and livelihood, almost 1 million had been affected, and more than 1200 km of roads damaged according to the latest report from COEN, Peruvian National Emergency Centre. Moreover, 50 archaeological sites have been damaged. The Peruvian government has valued the infrastructure lost thus far at 3000 million dollars.
Luckily, during the happening of this terrible natural disaster I was in the south of the country and for couple of weeks in Bolivia so I haven’t been personally affected by any means. There are about 818 districts in 12 different regions struck by the flooding; the most affected are northern cities like Piura and Trujillo with more than half of the total damage but also central Peru including the capital. Currently, I’m exactly there in the capital of Lima awaiting my flight to Mexico City. I’ve visited some of the affected areas in the center of the city as the bank of the Rimac River which overflowed due to the heavy rains flooding roads, houses and even a touristic park nearby, Parque de La Muralla. The damage in the area is still obvious and the reconstruction works to the bridge are in progress.
The flooding that Peru is facing right now is due to an unexpectedly stronger El Niño phenomenon. El Niño refers to the warming of the water surface in either the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean causing changes in the atmospheric circulation that reduce rainfalls in the western Pacific and increase cyclones around the tropical Pacific. The strength of this El Niño event in Peru seems to be due to a sudden warming of waters off its coast this year alongside an unusual weakening of trade winds resulting in torrential downpours in some parts of the country. Climate scientists believe that El Niño phenomena have likely been occurring for millions of years, but there is no consensus whether stronger El Niño phenomena and global climate change are related. However, it is believe within the scientist community that the higher temperatures of the oceans due to the global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions could increase the strength and occurrence of El Niño events as it is responsible of the increase of other natural disasters and the extreme weather we are experiencing worldwide.
But the main questions that remain now are, could this have been prevented? Avoided? Mitigated? Flooding in the north of Peru is not a new thing, is true that the magnitude of this El Niño couldn’t have been predicted but the consequences could definitely have been reduced considerably. Peru is located in an area called Ring of Fire of the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and tsunamis are not rare to happen. According to Esperanza Garcia, a journalist from Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, the budget for natural disasters prevention in Peru for 2017 was 320 million euros and less than 11% had been used before the catastrophe, in 2016 only 75% of the budget was used during the whole year spending only 2/3 of it in the areas most affected by this natural phenomenon. All this money could have been properly invested in the improvement of infrastructure, disaster risk management and national response that could have avoided much damage. Furthermore, the Minister Fernando Zavala admitted that the government could have done more since catastrophe prevention policies are not fully implemented in the country.
In the light of this disaster few days ago president of the USA Donald Trump signed an executive order shattering Obama’s Clean Power Plan to cut USA carbon emissions and reaffirmed once again his intention of withdrawing millions of dollars in environmental and climate change programs, destroying with his pen decades of progress in environmental policies. A disgraceful and deplorable decision taken by the ignorance of a selfish government that is not able to recognize the priorities in a world facing the biggest monster of its history, climate change.
What have happened in Peru and even more recently in Columbia, where heavy rains have caused several rivers to overflow in the provincial capital of Mocoa and more than 250 people have died due mainly to improper and illegal use of the land and deforestation, is just the Earth talking to us, and as Naomi Klein put it, telling us once and again in form of floods, hurricanes, tsunamis and other natural disasters that now is time to change our economic systems and the way we use this planet. Is time to work together to build more sustainable cities and lifestyles, to strength environmental policies and international aid, to listen to the scientists and to the nature; that now is time for solidarity.
When I was travelling Colombia I met Britney in the vibrant city of Medellin. Britney is a Canadian girl who was backpacking South America for few months and felt in love with Peru and Peruvian people. When all this happened she was back in Canada nevertheless after the heartbreaking news that the school and the city where she volunteered in during her travels was devastated by the flooding she decided to do a collection in her home town and come back to Peru to volunteer and help in Trujillo. She raised over $1000 and brought several suitcases full of clothes that Canadian Airlines checked in without additional charge after she explained the situation. Britney is volunteering for an NGO named Kulli that provides education for the children, I talked to her the other day to and she explained to me how is the situation in the North and what is she doing to help, ‘ I’m mainly staying in Trujillo city but visited different areas throughout the city. I also travelled 2 hours south to a small village of 24 families and managed to supply them all with food, water, clothing and toiletries! I think the saddest part of it all is that most areas affected were the areas that already had so little due to where they are located throughout the city. Most of their homes are destroyed and they´re crying for food and water. You see houses all through there, built with sticks and blankets trying to create a new home. We went to clean a lady’s home and didn’t know where to start, it was a mess! Her daughter’s room was destroyed and school books, photo albums all covered under layers of mud. That was very hard to see. I hope that through me coming here could inspire others to go out and do the same. No matter our skin colour, language or social class, at the end of the day we all need each other! Every act of kindness goes a long way and I hope people see my post and messages to do the same. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the families world light up and give them some hope that despite of this tragedy everything will be okay’.
But Britney is not the only one. I’ve met other backpackers that are helping in different ways, I actually wanted to volunteer myself but unfortunately I’ve got a flight to catch out of the country to start my new project in Guatemala therefore I do not have the time to do it. Notwithstanding, I donated some money and decided to write this post to raise some awareness about natural disasters and encourage people to help or donate to the Peruvian people to overcome the terrible consequences of El Niño. If you would like to do so here you can find some NGO’s and platforms.