Resilience, drive and a deep love of home in the wake of deadly floods

Earlier this year, Bolivia suffered its worst floods in over 20 years. In the southern Tupiza Department, three days of heavy rain caused the San Juan del Oro and Tupiza rivers to rise up and burst their banks. Elizabeth, who lives with her family in the region and farms alongside her husband, said her family lost its livelihood in the floods, but she feared they would lose a lot more. “You didn’t know if you were going to cry or talk. You didn’t know what was going to happen. I was so afraid, afraid that the water might keep rising, or that even after losing everything we would also lose our house,” she said. “The water reached the door of our little house.”

Hundreds of families like Elizabeth’s were affected by the floods.

The Bolivian Red Cross, through the support of emergency funds of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) initiated an operation to assist communities affected by the floods. During the first phase of the operation, first responders and volunteer teams of the Bolivian Red Cross, in coordination with the government and community groups, organized and distributed food supplies.

In the second phase of the operation, the organization worked with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and public authorities to assess the ongoing needs of people in affected areas. German Amarilla, agricultural engineer and specialized livelihoods technician at the Paraguayan Red Cross is working together with personnel from the Bolivian Red Cross to obtain and analyze samples. “The flooding of the rivers brought a great deal of minerals, and loaded these areas,” he said. “We need to find out how this affects the soil quality. We will take some samples and conduct an analysis to determine what measures we must take to rehabilitate these lands so that the people who depend on them can cultivate them once again.”

Bolivian Red Cross President, Abel Pena y Lillo said that involvement of individuals and communities was a vital component in building future resilience. “We are coordinating with the community to obtain results that will benefit affected families and allow them to prepare for future disasters.”

Beyond the effects on livelihoods, the floods highlight other humanitarian challenges that are often overlooked. For instance, there is a clear need to adapt to and mitigate the causes and effects of climate change, and also to deal with the issue of migration and displacement.

Elizabeth said that she considered leaving the community as many others had, but in the end decided to stay. “Many people left in search of a new way of life,” she said.

Walberto Bilte, Mayor of Hichupampa, said displacement was a growing problem, “If we didn’t have this help, we would definitely have to go and find a place that we could build new lives, especially so that our children could continue going to school.”

However, the motivation to emigrate is overwhelmed by the connection to the land and community. “This land represents more than my livelihood, it represents my reason for living. Living here you feel happy and at peace, without problems, like in other places or other countries,” Elizabeth said. “That is why I feel happy here.”

Elizabeth’s story is far from unique. In Bolivia, the Americas and beyond, lives are affected by disasters that are not significant enough to merit coverage in the global news landscape – to those affected, no disaster is small or insignificant – but the real story is the drive and resilience of these communities. “With the help that we have received already, we will recover, just the way we always have, struggling and working.”