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Peruvian floods: 3 months on


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From the end of last year to the beginning of this one, South America was affected by devastating floods.

The floods have hit Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru, with hundreds of people dead or missing.

Peru, which is always under threat from earthquakes and tremors due to its proximity to the boundary between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates, began experiencing huge rain fall in January.

These heavy rains caused massive flooding, with rivers bursting, damaging infrastructure throughout the nation.

115,000 homes were demolished, making 178,000 homeless. The most recent death toll says the Peruvian floods took the lives of 113 people, 1,500 miles of road have been destroyed and 3,000,000 people are at risk of waterborne diseases according to the United Nations.

Ariana Kate Castro Torres, pictured, a 19-year-old student at Escuela Nacional Superior de Arte Dramatico (English: National Superior School of Dramatic Art) was born and raised in Lima. Her home was away from the flooding, but she was involved in aid efforts after the flooding.

Ariana believes people expected some amount of flooding, but not in such a large scale: “I think we all subconsciously expected the floods because of the rainy days we had, but we never though it would be this bad, because in previous years, Peru wasn’t that badly affected. But this time, the rain was worse than before.”

It was on the 16th March, when Ariana was picking up a present from a friend, that she met up with her mother. They went on a walk around Plaza de Armas, a square in Lima’s historic centre, hosting several important national and local government buildings as well as religious centres.

It was on that day that a small village, Barbablanca, situated just inland, halfway down the nation’s west coast, was destroyed due to mudslides. Luckily all 160 residents were successfully evacuated.

Ariana tells me, “We started seeing people taking pictures near the river (The Rimac River, which flows through Lima and the port of Callao) and they all looked worried. Before that, my mum was telling me “the sky looks scary today”.

“The police were there to avoid people going near the river as the bridge was about to collapse.”

The collapse of bridges such as Puente de Piedra caused the floods and mudslides, resulting in the closures of all roads leading out of Lima and clogging the filters of the Sedapal water company, leaving much of city without clean water.

The start of term for Ariana’s course was delayed for a week as Peru was gripped in a state of emergency.

“I’m not going to lie, I was scared because I hadn’t seen anything like that before," she says. "The floods affected all of Peru, so I felt sad for the people in these difficult situations, like old people, children and pregnant women.” 

Many families lost everything and according to Ariana, “everyone was worried because the rain wouldn’t stop”.

This moved Ariana to help out and donate what she could to those affected, and she donated “food, clothes, blankets and some money”, as well as visiting affected families and handing out food with friends and relatives.

These families she described as being “devastated, without hope”. These people were simply “asking for help” as they had “lost their homes and animals”. Evangelina Chamorro Diaz, a 32-year-old woman who dramatically swam out of a mud slide in Punta Hermosa, a Lima suburb, has become a symbol of hope and strength for the Peruvian people.

People are however still worried about the future “because this is something that could happen every year if there is strong rain”.

Ariana told me how she wants to continue to help people affected whilst on break from university, but is critical of the provisions to deal with these issues: “We are not prepared for stuff like this,” she explains. “People and the government need to be more aware about how powerful nature is compared to humans. We cannot control everything.”

She praised the strength of some of the poorest who were affecting, admiring their desire to “soldier on” in spite of their ordeal.

However, this is contrasted by the reaction from the government, which Ariana has described as “disorganised”. Much of the country has recovered, but some places are still in need of help.

“I’ve seen people show solidarity, but the government was helping only for a while. Now that nobody's talking about the floods, they have just forgotten about the people without homes and the children who have had their schools destroyed and can’t study.

"In Piura (a region in the north-west), there’s a lot of Dengue (a disease spread by mosquitos that is responsible for 20,000 deaths a year) cases due to the floods. They aren’t receiving enough help, and it’s not just that region, it’s places all over Peru that still need help.”

She also claims to have seen food donations “hidden away” that expired “when they were a lot of people who needed them”.

Ariana offers a clear set of advice for those caught up in disasters such as flooding: “Firstly, try to find out if the place where you live will be affected by floods. Always keeps a first aid and emergency kit at home for emergencies with lanterns, clothes and stuff and you need to keep calm.”

She also, however, warns: “Don’t be stupid trying to film everything like you’re a YouTuber and risk your life”, noting that people in Peru had put themselves in serious harm doing that exact thing.

Ariana believes Peru has been helped by being “united”. As well as having to deal with earthquakes, for much of the 1980s, Peru was terrorised by far-left guerrilla terrorist groups, the Marxist-Leninist MRTA and Maoist Sendoro Luminoso (Shining Path).

Between 1980 and 1992, Shining Path was responsible for 20,000 deaths alone. In 1990, 100 Peruvian officials were assassinated. The hard-line policies of President Alberto Fujimori saw both groups destroyed but their impact is still felt. The people however are united, and this has helped them through this year's floods.

“Peru was a mess”, Ariana tells me. She recalls feeling “pain in my heart” and seeing her father cry whilst watching videos of this dark spell in Peru’s recent history.

But it makes Peru “stronger”.

“People will always remember those horrible days, but everybody went through the same situation; every family suffered.”

Ariana believes this united spirit will help the Peruvian people stay strong. In the long run, it is clear President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s government, who were elected in 2016 after the very narrow defeat of Keiko Fujimori (Alberto’s daughter) by just 50,000 votes, must do more - and that they need to remember that there are still people affected by these tragic events, and that they must not be forgotten.

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