Floods in Paraguay

Published: 26 June 2014 20:07 CET

When the waters recede, what is left for the lives of those affected?

Paraguay has suffered the consequences of  historic floods in Asunción, Alto Paraguay, Ñeembucú, Misiones , Alto Paraná, Presidente Hayes and in the cities of Concepción and San Pedro del Ycuamandiyu, which have affected more than 200,000 people. The International Federation of  Red Cross and Red Cross Societies (IFRC), has worked alongside the Paraguayan Red Cross to provide support to those affected and evaluate damages and needs for  the recovery response. Our communications team at the IFRC’s  Americas Zone Office in spoke with Omar Robinson, a disaster management delegate and water and sanitation specialist,  who is now in Paraguay supporting the Paraguayan Red Cross in the flood response.

In addition, the IFRC’s Pan-American Disaster Response Unit, has mobilized a team of technical specialists in water and  sanitation as part of the Regional Response Unit that travelled to Paraguay this week to support the evaluation process and response.

We spoke with Omar about his assessments from the front line while Red Cross teams anticipate a long recover phase for the affected families who must wait until the waters recede.

By: Enrique Jair Guevara/IFRC Zone Office. Panamá

EG: Omar, you have had a lot of work experience in emergency response. In this case, what is your take away  of this year’s floods in Paraguay?

OR: The population is suffering from the brunt of the floods due to two factors: the first is the rain, and the second is the rise of the Paraná and Paraguay rivers. However, unlike other experiences, there are signs that are putting me at ease for the moment, due to the fact that these floods have not occurred suddenly, in other words it was not flash flooding. This provides the population enough time to prepare and organize themselves. The slow evolution of this phenomenon has given a lot of time to save more lives. However, when we visited the rural area of Ñeembucú, we observed a massive loss of crops which has amounted to millions in lost revenue. This community has lost practically everything and the families have survived with the little they could salvage and the aid provided by the State.

EG: From 2006, Paraguay has seen frequent natural phenomena that have greatly impacted local populations, especially in terms of the floods and droughts that have impacted the same areas, in the case of Ñeembucú and el Chaco. Are they facing a cyclical situation in this case? Is it more of the same?

OR: Yes, I have seen similar situations in other emergencies. However, this population has a particularity and we saw this first had while conducting  interviews with these communities because the population has a vision of  welfare  within their own reality, because in spite of the situation that they are going through, for them everything is fine. For the moment, they are receiving food. If you ask if their food consumption has reduced, namely, if the amount of time they eat now compared to before the floods has reduced, they state that it is the same. In general, it seems as if all is well, but the impact is real. In the future, the population will resent the fact that they have lost so many crops.

EG: Given your experience in other emergencies, what have you observed in Paraguay that has been of particular worrying? What are the most urgent needs?

OR: What worries me is the fact that right now there is a lot of local media attention. Television channels are televising images of the floods at all times, in Asunción and the rest of the country, as well as the other affected areas. But our main concerns are focused what will happen tomorrow when the population sees the  receding waters and realize there are no crops left and the State will have to at some point suspend distribution of food aid. This can cause a serious crisis for the population. However, it is not only the fact that they will not have access to the food necessary for their families.

“These floods can bring more serious consequences because in past years there have been floods, but less severe, and then, for the same dates and same period, the winter season comes. I consider that if this happens, the affectation will be very serious. This will require an extremely strong support by the part of the State, and humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross.”

In the rural area, the most urgent needs of the population are access to high land for those farmer that have their livestock in the plains under water. They have the need for high dry land and with sufficient pasture for the cattle to survive. And that would help alleviate some of  the problems of the population will face when the water recedes, because if the animals are relocated  to other areas not affected by the rain, this can help when the water recedes, as they can return and have the means available to continue their daily lives.

EG: What is the assistance being given at the moment? Has the Red Cross done any work previously?

OR: The State has given food aid for a period of one month in order to address the urgent need for food. According to the population they received two rounds of humanitarian aid. They have distributed cassava, as well as yucca, herbs, sugar, milk, rice, and a series of items the assist in the basic needs of the population.

It is important to stress the importance of the preparedness work that has been done with the population. The population knows how to act, where and when to move to shelters and this is important because this preparation coupled with early warning systems helps save lives. However we need adequate planning and a long term plan in order to have clear actions as to how we are going to help tend  to the needs of the population when the water recedes.

The Paraguayan Red Cross has been working since March on a campaign to provide assistance to the families in Ñeembucú, allowing them  to reach hundreds of families with the delivery of clothes, blanket and food. With the rise in floods, the International Red Cross Movement is joining forces to serve at least 10,000 people with donations of food, water storage, hygiene, blankets, and livelihood recovery. The mobilization of inputs for water treatment such as buckets, soap, chlorine and jerry cans for water has targeted the camps in Asunción (approximately 80 in Asunción alone) accompanied with campaigns for hygiene promotion.

EG: When will the flood waters recede? How much time will the recovery take?

The estimates that we have is that the flood waters may not recede until September. Then comes the  challenging part of this operation when the people living in shelters start returning to their homes. This will involve some intensive logistics planning and coordination,  order to ensure the population can clean their homes and return them back to optimal living conditions in order to avoid any sort of disease and evaluate the structural integrity of the houses. We are talking about many months, and if the water does not recede in time, the houses that are quite submerged will need to be completely reconstructed. In effect, in these moments, time is the worst enemy of the population.