While hoping for rain, communities receive support the Red Cross

Published: 20 February 2014 3:14 CET


By Gennike Mayers, IFRC  and Mirta Martínez, Paraguayan Red Cross- Boquerón branch



On 10 September, 2013, the Chamber of Senators of Paraguay declared a state of emergency for 90 days for three departments – President Hayes, Boquerón and Alto Paraguay – severely affected by drought.

Ruben Cuevas, Coordinator of the Emergency Secretariat for the department of Boquerón, says: “It’s been nine months since we have had no rain in El Chaco and we have emergencies here every year, either flooding or drought.”

The Emergency Secretariat has the responsibility for monitoring the water distribution system and water sources. Cuevas says the drought has had a major impact on lives in affected areas. “We spent almost this entire year assisting the population with water trucks. We distributed water from ponds and cisterns to the communities,” he says.

In September, when the emergency was declared, the situation was even more critical as the water sources were drying up. As a result, authorities were forced to carry and distribute water in trucks, traveling just under 100 kilometers, in order to fill the community cisterns, most of which are located in schools, churches or health centres.

In addition to the problem of water reserves, the region of El Chaco has a particularly harsh climate. “Water which is harvested should last until the rains come once again, but with the extreme heat in the oriental region, which can sometimes rise to 50 degrees Celsius, increases the level of evaporation in our water reserves,” Cuevas says.

Quenjacloi is one of the indigenous communities which have been affected. The situation is affecting the lives of 25 families (96 individuals). Gervacio Castillo, leader of the community says food security is becoming a serious issue. “There is no transport so we cannot go out to look for food and food does not arrive here,” he says. “That was the difficulty last year. Every year this happens. We live off hunting and what we gather in the woods. However, when there is a lot of rain we lose the food that we would usually collect in the woods.”

Although everyone wishes for the rain, they do not want too much of it. Castillo explains: “Rain is great for agriculture, but heavy rain makes it very difficult to prepare the parcels of land with the government farming machinery that we depend on to prepare the plots for us.”

Community plots are usually used to grow beans, squash, cassava and sweet potatoes. “This can be planted when it’s raining. If it rains early, normally in the months of September and October, we plant. By January and February food is available,” says Castillo. “This year, the machines arrived late so we planted late, and there are no seedlings yet. The seeds are still under the soil, but by March we should be able to eat what we planted.”

In the meantime, many men from the community have sought work in the large Mennonite-owned ranches, known for being the largest producers of meat and milk in Paraguay. The women remain in Quenjacloi to take care of the children and the community plots. “There are some families who have found work but they have to go very far. Sometimes they stay for a month, two months, three months. They return from time to time and bring with them money with which to buy food but also clothing, soap and medicine,” Castillo says.

In addition to the support of state authorities, the indigenous communities have been assissted by non-governmental organizations as well. The Paraguayan Red Cross has provided tangible humanitarian assistance through distributions of organic seeds and farming tools such as watering cans, wheelbarrows, shovels and rakes.

“The governmental authorities have assisted us but there are not enough resources to meet all the needs of all the communities. But the institutions that come from outside, for example the Red Cross which always supports us, I thank them very much because everything they have promised, they have delivered,” says Castillo.

Thanks to funds mobilized through the current appeal, the Paraguayan Red Cross, along with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Cross Societies, has committed to providing assistance in the communities most severely affected by the current drought.