Floods leave trail of destruction

25 March 2017

Although heavy coastal rainfall and mud avalanches continue to afflict many areas, the government has rallied resources to alleviate some of the immediate suffering caused.

The latest published figures show the scale of the problem. The estimated number of people killed now is put at 85, with 270 people injured and 15 people disappeared. There are 111,000 people directly affected (damnificados) with a further 672,000 people secondarily affected (afectados). 13,000 homes have collapsed and a further 14,000 are currently uninhabitable. More than 2,000 kms of roads are officially described as ‘destroyed’ with 195 bridges collapsed and 319 damaged. The area of land affected is put at 25,000 hectares, with crops destroyed on 11,800 hectares.

Such figures may well be guesstimates since it is difficult to assess the scale of the damage, particularly in more remote parts of the country.

The government has launched what looks like efficient responses, especially by using the armed forces to bring immediate help to imperilled communities. Perhaps stung by accusations about technocrats not wishing to get their boots dirty, ministers have been dispatched to affected regions, with the president making daily appearances in particularly problematic regions. The government has used every available resource to publicise its efforts, even down to sending messages from Kuczynski to mobile phones across the country.

The effect of this has to been to take the pressure off the government over its handling of corruption allegations. In particular, the questioning of Transport and Communications Minister Martín Vizcarra has been put on hold, as the pro-Fujimorista majority in Congress and its allies see it as likely to boomerang against them in the present circumstances. The congressional hearing, scheduled for 23 March, was rendered deliberately inquorate.

However, as the rains subside and the mopping up operation begins, the political truce looks certain to be short-lived.

Moreover, the longer-term goal of creating a rational system that guarantees water supplies for an ever-increasing urban population in places like Lima and other large cities is pending. Perhaps the lessons will be learned from this latest crisis; but perhaps not. In a useful piece, Abel Gilvonio urges us to take a look upstream and consider river valleys as a whole.

And looking upstream from Lima towards the source of most of its water supply is not a pretty sight. Apart from the detritus that gets deposited daily into the Rímac and its tributaries, the city lives in constant danger of the tailings dams from the many mines up the Rímac bursting and spilling their toxic waste into the city’s water supply.

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