Early Warning System Needed for Flood-prone Punchana, Peru

Houses in one of the villages in Loreto, Peru. © IOM 2015

By Inés Calderón
In Spanish

Peru, one of 13 countries recently surveyed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) ahead of World Humanitarian Summit regional consultations for Latin America and the Caribbean, is highly vulnerable to natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and droughts.

Coordinated with World Vision, the survey focused on displaced people, residents, and returnees from 634 communities in the 13 countries within Latin America and the Caribbean with the aim of improving the humanitarian response coming from international and not for profit organizations through a broad data gathering process, required to identify principal strengths as well as weaknesses.

One area of Peru that faces a high risk of natural emergencies and disasters is Punchana, a district located in the Loreto region in northeastern Peru and is part of the Amazon rainforest. The district has a tropical climate and receives rainfall most of the year which sometimes can lead to flooding.  

Most of its 78,446 inhabitants live in extreme poverty face a high rate of malnutrition and a low level in education. Although 90% of Punchana population lives in urban zones and 57% lack safe drinking water while 55% of the residents cannot access basic water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. About 26% of the people have no power with half the population heavily reliant on firewood and charcoal for cooking.

Rosa is a Punchana resident who recently received shelter material provided by IOM under a programme that supports vulnerable community members in order to increase their resilience.

“I am now building the floor with the wood we received from IOM. This support is necessary,” says Rosa.

“Every year when heavy rains come, my house is flooded. So I decided to raise the floor to avoid the water getting in,” says Rosa.

"However, if the floods are as strong as in 2012, it wouldn’t matter how high my floor is because the water would cover even the bridges and I would have no choice but to leave.”

Winter in this region starts in November and ends in May. It is humid between March and April.

Houses in one of the villages in Loreto, Peru. © IOM 2015

“The three month long winter withers out the wood and by the end the floor of my house has withered and requires replacing every year,” she adds.

The floods Rosa refers to were in February and March 2012, when several towns in Loreto were greatly affected, leaving 19,200 homes damaged, with about 18,400 families directly affected and 26,000 hectares of farming land flooded. The water levels reached coastal streets in Iquitos city.

The survey showed that more than 70% of people interviewed indicated their communities are not ready to face an emergency and Punchana is not the exception.
Rosa says that although her community is better prepared and organized in case of an emergency or disaster, there is no Early Warning System in place.

“If a disaster occurred, I would have to look for another place to live.”

“The community must participate in programs and count on the local authorities´ commitment to prepare us for disaster times. We, the people, must also be involved to lower risks and also encourage the young and the elderly to participate,” Rosa says.

IOM and other agencies have been working with communities to improve their resilience and lower the impact of natural disasters among vulnerable populations in areas like Loreto, Peru.

During the previous emergencies IOM played a major role assisting displaced families with basic need and facilitating the return to the communities of origin of people.

Read the Spanish version of the article here.


Inés Calderón is a Communication Specialist with IOM Peru