Peru: Building safer homes for the next earthquake

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Fernando Nuño in Moquegua Valley, Peru
It was Saturday afternoon and many of the inhabitants of the city of Moquegua in southern Peru and the surrounding valley were not at home to witness how the earthquake destroyed thousands of adobe houses and turned their small family farms into dust.

Martina Nina, a farmer from the valley, was in the cinema when the quake struck at 15:33 on June 23.

"After many months my husband and I decided to go to Arequipa to see a film, but we chose the wrong day," explained Martina.

Martina's is one of the 145 families which have been included in a Peruvian Red Cross and International Federation programme to provide more seismic-resistant homes for earthquake victims.

Hours after the earthquake, several roads were still cut off and Martina and her husband, Eduardo Quahila, started to walk the 220 kilometres that separate Arequipa from Moquegua valley. They reached their community, La Rinconada, at dawn the next day to salvage what they could: a cow and two chickens. All that was left of their house was the clothes line.

Over the last eight months, Moquegua valley, along with Arequipa and Tacna departments, has been one of the priority work areas for the Peruvian Red Cross, which, with the support of the International Federation has implemented three programmes: seismic-resistant dwellings that include workshops on strengthening the traditional adobe constructions, water and sanitation and disaster preparedness.

Of a total of 562 housing units that are included in the rehabilitation programmes in southern Peru, the valley has seen 145 new houses built. The family houses, each measuring 27 square metres, are made of a double layer of superboard with a structure that is capable of withstanding severe seismic tremors.

To continue with the construction programme, the International Federation and the National Training Service for Construction Industry (SENCICO) have trained 60 volunteers from the provincial committees of the Red Cross in Moquegua, Arequipa and Tacna, in the various techniques to improve the construction of adobe houses. The aim is for them, in turn, to train other members of their communities.

"The houses last for approximately five to ten years, since this is an area with heavy annual rainfall. Therefore, our long-term objective should be to find ways to improve future adobe constructions, which is the cheapest material for families on low income," explains Walter Cuadros, technical co-ordinator of the International Federation in Moquegua.

Families in the valley have started to use the inexpensive methods shown them to strengthen the small stables they have attached to their houses. These methods include mixing adobe with quincha (straw) or totora (cattail), as well as using crossbeams that double the strength of walls.

Martina Nina has already applied part of what she has learned in the workshops and has built a small pen for her hens and rabbits. "I know we can't prevent another earthquake," she says looking at her animals. "But the next time the animals, my husband and I will be better prepared and our new house will not collapse as easily."