Flash floods leave Peruvian farmers devastated

By Fernando Nuño in Huancané
"The landscape of Cucho Yaricoa had a beautiful green colour. A week ago, the pampa was covered with potatoes, quinua, oats and barley. I spent hours enjoying the view. Now, our landscape is blue. A big lake is now where once all our crops were," says 60-year-old Porfirio Huanqayapo, a subsistence farmer badly hit by flash floods that struck southern Peru last week.

Today, a team from the Peruvian Red Cross has reached Cucho Yaricoa by boat to provide support to some families that have refused to leave the flooded area. The volunteers supply them with food, blankets and clothes. Entire villages close to Cucho Yaricoa have been washed away by raging torrents and people are living in temporary shelters.

"Pasture from neighbouring hills is all they have to feed their cattle and sheep," says Cesar Lopez Buscamaita, Peruvian Red Cross field coordinator.

The situation could worsen as more rainfall is expected in southern Peru. The hail storms and floods which claimed the lives of 18 people and affected more than 60,000 in the departments of Puno, Cusco and Madre de Dios, also damaged or destroyed 34,000 hectares of crops, 3,300 houses, 87 schools and health centres, according to the government.

For rural communities living closing to Lake Titicaca, the risk of further floods and storms remains high due to the weather phenomenon, the El Niño, which is expected to take effect during this current rainy season.

"Record high levels of snow storms, hail storms and rainfalls in many rural areas of Puno during the last nine months, are certainly a threat. The level of vulnerability in many communities is critical," says Edgardo Calderón, president of the Peruvian Red Cross.

Immediately after the recent storms, the Peruvian Red Cross mobilized 150 technical staff and volunteers from headquarters and seven branches to distribute 70 tonnes of food, clothes, blankets, medicines and tools to those who have been left in the most vulnerable position. A coordinated operation with the Civil Defence and local authorities allowed rescue and relief teams to reach communities quickly.

The floods affecting southern Peru are the latest disaster to hit Puno, one of the poorest departments in the country. A number of highland pampas have been suffering from unusual drought and snow storms during the last year. Once again, the way of life among the already beleaguered subsistence farmers is being challenged.