Is Paraguay facing a new silent disaster?

Published: 30 June 2014 3:11 CET


By: Enrique Jair Guevara, Americas Zone Office, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies

This is not the first time that the words “Paraguay” and “Floods” are unfortunately used together in the title of an article, and from the looks of it, it would appear that we have grown so accustomed to this phenomenon that its adverse effects are hidden behind its recurrence of these events. However, from the field, we are clearly aware of the urgent needs that are being left behind by these floods.

Felipe Del Cid, disaster management delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies (IFCR) deployed to the field to participate in evaluations and planning of the response to this situation, is a direct witness of the effects of these floods, his account is moving: “When I arrived in Asuncion I thought I would have to travel many hours to get to the areas that were flooded, however, having only visited the Paraguay River in Asuncion I realized that we were facing a bigger emergency than what we had expected”. What Del Cid has found is a urban zone with thousands of families displaced by the flooding of the Parana River. The Paraguayan army is currently coordinating several camps to house these families, prioritizing those who have been most affected.

But this is only the beginning, says Del Cid: “I think that the process of thousands of families returning home will require that  the same or even greater resources  are invested by the government authorities. The cleaning and disinfection of houses is an important need in which we all need to be involved.” Still, Del Cid is worried that the return home for many of these families will take at least 2 months in some cases and this will increase the possibility that many of the families will not have the support they need during this period, as resources will run out.

Floods in Paraguay and the rest of South America are recurring, “many times I think we should even accept them as part of nature” explains Del Cid.  Immense rivers like the Amazon in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil and the Parana and Paraguay, and the populations that live close to them are evidence that the community preparedness projects undertaken by the red Cross in each of these countries has certainly contributed to saving lives. “Paraguay is an example of how families live through and with floods every year to the point of significantly reducing the number of deaths and loss of livelihoods and material possessions” But in spite of this, these floods have lasted longer and have increased water levels above normal, affecting thousands of people, “who had not seen a flood like this since 1983”.

To support the response to this emergency the IFRC has mobilized a team of experts specialized in water and sanitation to support the camps sheltering those affected in Asuncion as well as financing essential primary actions in term of psychosocial support that will be carried out by Paraguayan Red Cross volunteers.

Almost every year, there is at least one emergency operation carried out in Paraguay, often in the same zones. “It’s almost always the same zones that are affected, but the particularity of the management of these types of emergencies due to recurrent flooding is that the families, even if they wanted to, can do little to avoid them”.  According to Del Cid, the loss of or adverse effects on livelihoods will be a constant need that is unfortunately no made visible in the same way or with the same immediacy by the media who tend to focus on the number of deaths and destruction of properties and homes during an emergencies.  Little attention is given to the long term effects and the recovery efforts that will need to be undertaken after the flood waters have dried up.

What happens with the silent disaster behind the floods in Ñeembucú? There are now thousands upon thousands of hectares of crops, and  thousands of heads of cattle affected, that in a few days will have no place to graze (this is the main source of livelihood for many of the families living in the area).  So what is worrisome in this case is not the now, but the after, that given the high levels of flood waters could cause outbreaks of disease like dengue and chikungunya, which continues to be a cause for worry due to the fact that the weather in Paraguay increases the propensity and spread of these diseases.