Learning from El Niño Costero 2017: Opportunities for Building Resilience in Peru, October 2017

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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The 2017 El Niño Costero flooding in Peru was highly destructive, both to northern Peru and the country as a whole. The flooding continued for nearly three months, affected over 1.5 million people, caused 162 deaths, and damaged hundreds of thousands of homes — impacts that make this event comparable to the El Niño floods in 1982-83 and 1997-98. Peru is now grappling with how to recover, with the knowledge that disaster events can and will happen again. The flooding, though a tragedy, is also an opportunity to understand the gaps and opportunities for developing resilience and fundamentally reducing disaster risk in Peru.
This report — a collaborative effort between ISET-International, Practical Action Peru, and the Zurich Flood Resilience Program — uses the PostEvent Review Capability (PERC) methodology to explore what happened, where disaster risk reduction, response and recovery have been most effective, and where there is opportunity to further build flood and multi-hazard resilience during and following reconstruction and recovery.

Key Insights

Greater coordination and communication is needed between all levels and sectors of government and between government and non-government entities.
Peru is a young democracy and has undergone several major transitions in recent years. Though the country has intentionally focused on building their disaster risk management (DRM) capacity, these regular changes mean that roles and responsibilities continue to shift, hindering multiyear, coordinated efforts. During and after the floods, lines of authority and responsibility were and continue to be unclear. Coordination between sectors and across scales, particularly with local government, is limited. Decisions are often made at the national level with little or no local input and without the flexibility to address local needs and priorities.

Committing to a consistent DRM structure with clear lines of authority, creating a culture of collaboration across sectors and between levels of government, actively engaging local level stakeholders in decision-making and implementation, and allocating funding to support long-term action will strengthen DRM in Peru.

Social recovery is as critical to DRR as infrastructure recovery

The Peruvian government is focusing primarily on public infrastructure (e.g. rebuilding roads and bridges, repairing protection infrastructure, and expanding drainage systems) to bolster recovery. However, thousands of households have lost assets and livelihoods. If social recovery is not intentionally undertaken, these families and their communities will succumb to greater vulnerability. In recovery, it is critical to think beyond physical systems and also strengthen community wellbeing. The Five Capitals approach used by the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance points to the importance of improving human capital (knowledge, skills, health), social capital (social relationships and networks), financial capital (livelihoods, savings, insurance), and natural capital (access to water, land, etc), in addition to addressing physical capital (infrastructure, equipment, etc), to support holistic recovery.

Resettlement needs to be approached as a multi-faceted issue

Currently, there is significant attention focused on the hundreds of thousands of people in Peru living on high-risk lands and/or displaced by the floods. Resettlement is being framed as the solution to this risk in areas deemed ‘unmitigable’. However, resettlement is far more complex than just relocating people from one area to another, and ‘unmitigable’ is not a black and white condition. The Peruvian government must work with local government, NGOs, and communities to explore the trade-offs between adaptation, mitigation and resettlement. Where resettlement is the best option, it must be delivered in tandem with provision of services, retention or enhancement of livelihoods, and housing models that are designed for long-term use and adaptable over time. Households to be resettled must be active and willing participants.

Protection infrastructure must be viewed in conjunction with its residual risk

Protection infrastructure, such as river levees and landslide debris nets, can help protect existing infrastructure. However, they should not be used to ‘protect’ high risk lands for the purpose of development. Even with protective infrastructure, there is residual risk. Globally, some of the most-costly flood impacts, in terms of both assets and lives, occur when protective infrastructure fails due to poor construction, lack of maintenance, or simply by being overwhelmed by the scale of the event.

Therefore, it is critical that those ‘protected’ by such structures know that they are at risk, and that backup systems such as early warning and the knowledge and capacity to respond in the case of failure are maintained. In parallel, land use planning and enforcement are needed to identify and prevent development of currently undeveloped high-risk lands