(PNS) Heavy rains, mudslides and flooding continue to wreak havoc on parts of Peru, leaving nearly a hundred people dead and hundreds of thousands without homes. The South American country was caught off guard by the rains that began in mid-January but grew worse in the past few weeks causing severe flooding and subsequent mudslides in the region.
“Some intense rain began to hit the northern part of the country in the mountainous regions,” said Jed Hawkes Koball, mission co-worker, who’s been living in Lima for eight years. “In a typical El Nino year, the meteorologists can predict these storms months in advance and be prepared, but this happened almost overnight and no one saw it coming.”
Koball says the damage in Lima is minimal, but once you go outside of the city, conditions deteriorate quickly.
“Most of the coast of Peru is all desert and the soil is sandy. The mountains come right up to the coastline, so the soil is being overwhelmed by the rains and that has created the mudslides,” he said. “Rivers are overflowing their banks and that has really impacted the smaller towns, mostly to the north. Houses are being carried away, cars are overturned and bridges are wiped out.”
Koball says the flooding has brought debris down river and the water treatment plants around Lima are unable to process the water, causing shortages in the area.
“There is an immediate need for non-perishable foods and clean drinking water,” said Koball. “The people here also need diapers and bug repellant. With all of the standing water, there has been an increase in mosquitos. The people also need basic materials for temporary housing such as tarps.”
Homes, roads, schools and other businesses have suffered significant damage and more than 100,000 people are in need of immediate humanitarian help, according to Koball. Meteorologists predict the heavy rains will last until mid-April.
Koball works closely with Red Uniendos Manos, the Joining Hands network in Peru. The organization works to change systemic issues such as policies around climate change. It is currently working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to determine the best approach to addressing the needs. He says the weather has impacted his ability to work in the area.
“Most of our work takes place in the mountains and travel is prohibited. I’ve tried to get around by bus but many of the roads have been blocked by mudslides,” he said. “The communities we relate with have not been overwhelmingly impacted so far, but some of our partner organizations have identified areas of concern.”
Koball says the people feel overwhelmed along with a sense of desperation because the rains keep coming. In addition, those who lose everything are on their own to rebuild. There is no insurance.
Valery Nodem, international associate with the Presbyterian Hunger Program, says this is an example of what climate change can do in a country like Peru.
“My hope is that the government of Peru and international donors don’t just address the immediate impact of the flooding, but look at the future and work on disaster prevention and preparedness,” he said. “Since Peru is very vulnerable to the effects of climate change, it needs, as a country, to develop strategies that ensure disasters of this magnitude remain in the history.”
by Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service