Months of record-breaking rainfall has prompted a humanitarian crisis in Peru, with some of the country’s poorest displaced from their homes and left vulnerable to hunger and illness.
According to an assessment of the damage released on Friday, the floods have caused around $3.1 billion in damage, left at least 90 people dead, hundreds injured and more than 100,000 displaced from their homes since the beginning of the year.
Aid organization Oxfam International said much of the damage could have been prevented.
“In 2015-2016, when El Niño was predicted to cause damage, the national budget set aside substantial money so that municipal governments could build riverside protection walls and clear debris and garbage from desert valleys … [but] less than 30 percent of those available public funds was implemented,” Oxfam Country Director in Peru Frank Boeren said in an email to Humanosphere.
Boeren added that the irresponsible budgeting was not solely the fault of the government. Corrupt real estate developers have teamed up with local authorities, he explained, to convert flood-prone areas into cheap land to accommodate Peru’s expanding cities.
“[These]… were subsequently purchased by thousands of poor families for whom this was the single affordable option to own a plot and to build their precarious home,” he said.
President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski stressed the need to relocate victims away from flood-prone areas.
“We must be prepared for the next 50 years, starting today, to face that,” Kuczynski said. “What are we going to do? First, give Peruvians the opportunity to live in suitable places.”
World Bank figures indicate nearly 10 million people live in the country’s urban slums, which are often built along river banks and other areas prone to flooding and landslides after heavy rains. Experts have been calling on state authorities to invest in basic flood prevention measures, including Peru’s outdated urban drainage systems, as climate change brings more frequent and intense floods, droughts and storms.
With heavy rainfall predicted to continue into next month, aid organizations have also warned that Peru’s poor are more vulnerable than ever to falling ill. Due to the collapse of the sewage systems, Oxfam said cholera has become a serious threat, and the government has fumigated more than 200,000 homes in an effort to prevent outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria, dengue, the zika virus, and chikungunya.
To address the emergency, El País reported that the Peruvian government has sent more than one million tons of cargo in humanitarian aid. Peru’s First Lady Nancy Lange on Sunday requested people to continue donating sugar, rice, noodles, oats and other basic products for flood victims.
Numerous donations have also come from abroad – among them Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, Panama, Bolivia, Canada, the United States, China and Venezuela – which supplied over 300 tons of humanitarian aid as of last Friday.