Eyewitness: Bolivia floods

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Christian Aid’s Cecilia Cordova has been out in the field visiting flood-affected communities in the region of Beni where our local partner CIPCA has been working since 1997.

It is estimated that 5,887 families are affected by the floods in this region. A state of national emergency has been declared in several provinces in Bolivia as heavy rain and floods continue.

Fields completely flooded

We took a small plane towards San Ignacio (one of the main towns in the region of Beni). As we were getting closer, we could see how flooded the indigenous territories were. Some communities were covered by water and practically all of their plantation fields were completely flooded.

The next morning we planned to visit some communities but it rained all night, making it impossible for the car to get through. We tried to drive a different way round but we got stuck in the mud and had to leave the car.

Crops completely lost

Our local partner organisation CIPCA had visited those communities only a week ago. Their photos showed that the road had become a lake and the houses had water up to half their height and, in some cases, to the roof.

People have lost almost all their crops. One of the photos showed us how the manioc was rotting.

However, the cocoa that communities have planted as part of CIPCA's crop diversification project is still standing.

CIPCA sees the loss of crops as the biggest danger for flood-affected families because they are having to eat food that they were saving as seeds for the next year.

Families adapting

It was interesting to see how families had learnt to adapt. Some had built a second floor inside their flooded houses to store valuable items, small animals and to provide a place where they could sleep. They had built similar platforms outside to put other, larger animals and to store food.

Ismael, the director of CIPCA, explained to us that families do not leave their houses because they want to take care of their animals and they want to be near their plantations, since that is where they get the food from. He said that they would feel like beggars if they went to the town.

Water up to our thighs

In the afternoon it stopped raining so we decided to visit a community just a few kilometres away. We had taken CIPCA’s strongest car but the road was even worse than the one in the morning. So, for the final stretch of the journey, we decided to leave the car and walked for half an hour, with water up to our thighs.

We met with a lady called Emma Moye. The houses in the community were dry, although part of Emma's house had fallen down because of the rain. They were, nevertheless, surrounded by water and, as with other communities, their plantations were flooded which was their biggest concern.

The bridge that led to their crops had been washed away and water was up to their chests if they tried to cross.

Feelings of frustration

With the rainy season not due to end until March or April, things are expected to get worse before they get better.

The Bolivian government is responding to the flooding themselves. However, transporting aid to these remote communities is extremely difficult. The rivers have become wide and fast-flowing and, with only two helicopters, it is hard for the local government to deliver the food and aid kits to all those who need it.

Besides the feeling of frustration at not being able to reach those most affected, I also realised that my views of the floods had a very strong urban bias.

For me – I was most concerned about people’s houses and their personal belongings. But, in reality on the ground, people are much more concerned about their crops, animals and plantations as these are their livelihoods and their future.