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Peru: Disaster relief funds sit unused as floods wreak havoc

Floods and landslides are nothing unusual during Peruvian summers so the national disaster relief program should not have failed across the country. There is no reason, save a lack of unified political will.

Peru was not unprepared, yet Peruvians cannot shake the feeling that the summer could have been better, says Francesca Garcia, a reporter for the daily newspaper "El Comercio." She has been reporting from Lambayeque, in the northern part of the country, one of the four most affected regions in the country. She describes her impressions in a phone interview: "The situation is terrible. Hundreds, even thousands of people are literally standing in front of their lives in ruins." Since December 2016, floods and storms have left at least 90 people dead in Peru.

Almost every year, flooding occurs between the western side of the Peruvian Andes and the Pacific coast. Sometimes it is stronger, sometimes weaker and sometimes it is concentrated in only one region of the country. "The amount of rain was not foreseeable; that is obviously not the government's fault," says Garcia. "Nonetheless, the consequences did not have to be so devastating."

Peru Überschwemmungen (picture-alliance/dpa/Agentur Andina/J.C. Guzman)

Many bridges and roads have been rendered unusable in the floods

Peru's unused prevention budget

For a long time, Garcia and several of her colleagues have been involved in national disaster relief. Floods are not the only threat to the country. Peru - like the entire west coast of the Americas, East Asia and Oceania - is located along the Pacific Ring of Fire. At any time, earthquakes can occur, tsunamis can flood coastal areas or volcanoes can erupt.

The Peruvian government does attach considerable importance to the issue. A budget of 1.1 billion soles (approx. 320 million euros) has been allotted for disaster relief in 2017. Yet according to Garcia's research, less than eleven percent was used in the first three months of the year, meaning half of what was available. At the end of 2016, authorities had only used 75 percent of the allotted budget. In Lambayeque and the equally hard-hit Piura region, only two thirds of the funds had been used. Garcia believes that the money could have been used to avert some of the damages.

Watch video 00:54

Peru: Woman saves herself from raging mudslide

Disaster relief full of red tape

Peruvian Prime Minister Fernando Zavala admits that the state could do more.

At a special cabinet session on the Piura disaster, he said "We must do more – on a local, regional and central level." He was referring to the structure of the authorities, as disaster relief in Peru is organized in rather small fragments.

Depending on the scale of the natural disaster, the mayor of a city, the regional government or the government in Lima is responsible.

A profile in the Peruvian daily newspaper "El Comercio" maintains that this system causes exorbitant red tape, which then hinders the implementation of planned measures.

Minister of Defense Jorge Nieta, who is responsible for parts of disaster relief, goes a step further. In a TV interview after the latest floods, he spoke openly about corruption on local and regional levels, citing the fact that mayors grant permits to construct buildings in temporarily dried out rivers. "The river does not flow into the city; the city flows into the river."

Fernando Zavala Premierminister Peru (picture-alliance/Zumapress/El Comercio)

Peruvian Prime Minister Fernando Zavala

Political skirmishes

Watch video 00:29

The Rimac river

Now it is a matter of limiting the damage. Members of the opposition are already demanding that the government cancel the Pan American Games that are to be held in Peru in 2019. Many say that the money for the games could be spent on compensation for damages.

 

The government, however, has rejected the demands - which is understandable, says Sebastian Grundberger, director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German think tank associated with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in Peru. "The country has enough funds to pay for both."

Grundberger does not believe that bowing to the proposal to cancel the sporting event would achieve anything: "It is more likely to put the government under more pressure."

Indeed, the government finds itself in a difficult situation because President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has been obliged to rule with a minority in parliament since his election victory in July 2016.

Grundberger considers these types of political maneuvers unreasonable: "In this situation the whole country should stand together." Considering that almost 700,000 people were affected by the floods - a very substantial number in a country of 30 million people - relief work must be prioritized over investigations into organizational structures and how they may hinder relief efforts.

Watch video 01:19

Peruvians brave treacherous floods

 

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