By Jessica Schofield-Wood
On 13th March 2017, we were all saddened to switch on the news and learn of the flooding in Peru, and deeply shocked by the horrific images on our TV screens. This is the worst flooding that Peru has experienced in many years, having displaced as many as 110,000 people.
On 3rd April, the Habitat Pro Lima team visited the areas of Carapongo and Barbablanca, in the outskirts of Lima. Both areas have been truly devastated by the floods. Approaching Carapongo, there was a line of tents along the street, made from wooden poles and plastic sheets where people who have lost their homes are living. The area where homes used to be is now completely desolate, all that can be seen is rubbish, rubble and debris. We experienced similar scenes in Barbablanca.
This flooding has occured as a result of a climate cycle known as El Niño. During El Niño, the water in the Pacific Ocean warms and shifts towards South America, causing weather abnormalities and extremes. El Niño usually occurs every 20-30 years and is known to be a naturally occuring phenomenon. However, in the current El Niño, water temperaturas have been abnormally high. Although it has not yet been confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) , this is highly likely to be caused by climate change. The greenhouse effect and rising sea level has aggravated El Niño, causing the worst flooding Peru has seen for decades. Studies also suggest that the El Niño phenomenon may become more frequent as a result of climate change.
This leaves Peru in a very vulnerable position. Although Peru is responsable for only 0.1% of the world’s global C02 emmissions, it is one of the countries most susceptible to the effects of climate change. Despite having an almost carbon neutral lifestyle, it is often Indigenous communities that suffer most as a result of weather extremes. This is because they often live close to rivers which are prone to flooding, and because they are almost completely dependent on harvests. In the North of Peru, the Shawi community are experiencing food shortages after the flooding of the Cachiyacu river has destroyed crops. In Huanchaco, Habitat Pro’s partner community, the Mochica Chimu, are also experiencing food shortages. Their livelihood is almost completely dependent on fishing, but because of the rise in water temperatures, many fish usually found in Huanchaco’s waters have either died or swum away.
The recent flooding has highlighed Peru’s unpreparedness when it comes to climate related disaster. It is clear that something must be done, both to reverse the effects of climate change and put into place an action plan to reduce casualties in the event of extreme weather conditions such as flooding. If Peru is going to experience El Niño more frequently in the future, it becomes even more important than such a strategy is put in place.
It is Habitat Pro’s belief that Indigenous communities must be involved in the planafication of such a strategy. The lifestyle of Indigenous communities in Peru is based around their relationship with the Earth, and historically, indigenous communities have been resilient to changes in their environment. Habitat Pro calls upon the government of Peru to recognise the value of Indigenous Knowledge and its potential contribution to efforts to mitigate the effects of climate related disaster.