Susana Arroyo in Peru
“The rice sown is gone because of the rain. That is bad news for us; now we do not have a job and we need to sell our hens to get some money to buy food. There are five people in my family. The help of the Red Cross has been a great joy; we hope they can stay supporting us because a long winter is coming.”
Gisela Torres lives in Samborondón, a small town in Guayas, Ecuador. Along with thousands of people in her own country and in Colombia and Peru, she is trying to overcome the damage caused by the heavy rains and floods of this winter season.
Colombia, Peru and Ecuador have experienced weeks of heavy rains leading to floods and landslides. An estimated 170,000 have been affected to date but the figure is likely to rise in the coming months.
The greatest impact has been in the coastal areas, where the rains have destroyed planted fields and houses, and cut off access to the seaside towns.
“Working closely with the communities and other organisations including local authorities and government has proved the best way to get an exact assessment of the damage and needs during the emergency,” explained Luis Alberto La Cruz, National Relief Director of the Peruvian Red Cross, who is coordinating the Red Cross response in Tumbes, a northern department hit by floods in February. “It is also the best way to ensure we support the most vulnerable people.”
Every year, the winter season in the Andean region continues to affect the lives of those living in the areas of greatest risk. Last year alone, the Colombian Red Cross supported almost 42,000 families, representing 20.7% of the total effort of government and non-governmental organisations across the country. So far this year, two months after the start of the rainy season, some 7,000 Colombian families have been assisted. Relief departments of 20 branches have issued an orange alert and their emergency response units are ready to deploy teams to the field, verifying the stocks of aid available and coordinating with local authorities.
“In the face of increasingly frequent and serious emergencies, Red Cross Societies from the Andean Region have developed their ability and capacity to provide better support to meet the needs of families and identify the right actions for the right situation,” explained Giorgio Ferrario, Head of the South America Regional Delegation at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The International Federation has released funds from its Disaster Relief for Emergency Fund to support the work of the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Red Cross Societies. This work includes the distribution of food in Ecuador and of water containers and purifications tablets in Peru, where the Red Cross is also distributing mosquito nets to prevent an outbreak of dengue fever due to the stagnant water.
The Red Cross has mobilised national and regional intervention teams to support the emergency response. According to Federation delegate, Natalia Gomez, the combination of local and external resources is vital in allowing each National Society to share experiences and best practice, therefore enriching their work before, during and after an emergency.
“Lessons learned in the field can guide and help define the community-based education process that will help to prepare for and cope with cyclical disasters like this winter season,” she said. “Building the capacities of Andean communities is just as important as improving our own ability to respond in the best possible way.”