Shelter and human settlements specialist travels to Paraguay to support flood response operation

Published: 8 July 2014 20:49 CET

By Enrique Jair Guevara, IFRC

Humanitarian aid continues to flow into Paraguay to meet the most urgent needs of more than 200,000 people affected by floods of the Paraná and Paraguay rivers. However, the rains have not stopped, and more problems may arise. We had the opportunity to talk to Santiago Luengo, disaster management delegate and specialist in housing and human settlements from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) before traveling to Asuncion, Paraguay and integrate the operational disaster response that develops in the country.

Enrique Guevara (EG): What are your expectations for this mission?

Santiago Luengo (SL): Expectations are always many, the main one is finding rapid and feasible solutions to all; from the human, technical, logistical and administrative resources, we intend to find a working pattern for a solution.

In addition to that I think each of the actors involved in an emergency operation needs to be attended to personally, because everyone has different needs.

When I travel, I think of what are the best options, try to place myself in their shoes and the feelings that they are facing when they lose a home. A home means a lot to people, not as a stove or a dinner plate, a home is made part by part; often with great effort, the home is something special.

EG: What do you expect to find given your experience in emergency operations? You are Mexican and Mexico there are many floods. Do you think you can apply some of your experiences in this case?

SL: It's a very complicated question, as flooding generates a greater impact on the infrastructure impact on people. Often people find their own solutions that are difficult to identify at the time of the emergency and will begin to highlight during the recovery process. The important things that apply to this emergency are that we must identify the necessary solutions for the displaced population, livelihoods, health, water and sanitation; that generate mechanisms and comprehensive solutions for the population. In terms of urban emergencies, there are challenges that we must identify and coordinate quickly in order to avoid a conflict or a crisis that are subsequently more difficult to intervene.

EG: You delegate of housing and human settlements of the IFRC. In this type of emergency (floods) what are often the most urgent needs? You expect to find this in Paraguay?

SL: The main requirements are with regards to hygiene and sanitation, as well as a shelter, collective center, and temporary space to stay. When water levels begin to drop people often return, but the needs are mostly home repairs and Non-Food Items, for example supplies to clean their homes. The climate in Paraguay is cool this time of year, so you have to consider articles for the cold.

EG: Preliminary reports tell us that there is much affectation in Asuncion, an urban city, what challenges do you face by this context for the work in shelters?

SL: It is a challenge like all emergencies, but it is solvable. The important thing here is to give the area the focus needed, meeting the standards and indicators for them to have a decent and safe space.

In urban contexts, marginalization and socio-cultural challenges makes us have multidisciplinary strategies to generate a response to that context.

EG: We understand that many people live near rivers, as this is their main source of subsistence. How the Red Cross working to mitigate the risk posed by rising rivers facing the need for a living for these vulnerable communities?

SL: The problem is not living near the river; the Red Cross with Urban Risk Units is looking to mitigation activities that are feasible in each of the contexts. In addition is the fact of increasing trends such as climate change, where each day we have more rain, more hurricanes, more disasters and this allows us to generate more risk reduction strategies; roundtables with governments to address issues of preparation, capacity issues, Early Warning Systems, community drills, etc.

For several years we have had mitigation activities in other National Societies, it is time to use them as good examples for mitigation activities.

EG: What is known about those ready to be relocated to shelters? What is the support that is being provided? What is needed to support those affected?

SL: In Asuncion there are no shelters, there is a concept of Transitional Housing Communities (CHAT). You can say that they are informal settlements have risks of sanitation, hygiene, health and other risks.

Support is being provided directly by the staff and volunteers of the Paraguayan Red Cross, in compliance with the assistant role to support the National Emergency Secretariat (NES) in the activities that are developed to meet the needs of people affected.

In order to support those affected, we are working directly with volunteers of the Paraguayan Red Cross and some actors who support the National Society to provide safe water, food, lectures on hygiene for families in shelters, and other supplies for household cleaning, in order to boost the recovery process.