Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A visit in Chosica

As mentioned in my last blog I got to visit one of the areas where we are active last week. To say the least: it was fascinating. But let’s start from the beginning: the day before going I spoke to Miluska, a lovely woman from Practical Action who is part of the “Zurich team” here. Her first question was: do you speak Spanish? (in Spanish of course). Her eyes lit up when I answered with a yes, because she then confessed that she doesn't speak a word of English. This is no isolated case, it’s quite usual in Peru.

It’s about an hour’s drive from here to Chosica (in normal traffic – in heavy traffic on the way back it took us almost 4 hours (yes, quite right, traffic in Lima is CRAZY!)). All the way there Miluska explained the various areas where our flood resilience program is in place, how it works and what the problems are. In the area around Chosica we work with 9 communities, each has a “Director” who’s the contact person for Practical Action. Each of those communities have different needs and problems, and often much more than “just” the risk of being flooded. “People in this area live with the river, but not from the river”, Miluska explains. And this is the big difference to Piura, for example, the area up north where we also have a project going. The people there, in contrast, live from the river. The people here in Chosica however do not see the river as a useful resource, but rather as a necessary evil of the landscape where they live. This means that they try to adapt the river to their needs, meaning that they fill it up with sand or stones if they need more place for living, through which they change the course of the river. This might help their community, but it results in huge trouble for other communities further downstream, who then all of a sudden find the river flowing directly in the direction where their village is, eating its way into the river bank. This might not be that much of a problem if some houses weren't built so close to the river bank. In 2004 a law saying that houses need to be built at least 50 meters away from the river. But so many houses were built before this law was passed, and thus stand much too close to the river bank. Their owners of course would never think of rebuilding their house in a different location, and the government is simply not interested either in helping them or to really enforce the law. This is where Practical Action comes in: they educate the people, explain why it is important that the village is built at a certain distance to the river, and to make sure that no new houses are built too close, a park area with trees is built between the village and the river. But of course houses are still built too close to the river. Miluska shows me a house which was built just 9 months ago. Back then it stood about 5 meters from the river bank. Now, through the changing of the rivers course by upstream communities, the river has eaten its way into the river bank and the house now literally hangs over the river:
This house once used to be 5 meters from the river
But this is not the only problem in this area: the other big problem in the village of Chosica are landslides, which are caused through heavy rain falls. Locals tell me that this actually happens every year. But “the government leaves us alone with this problem, they don’t help us”, says Señor Dueñas, a close associate to the Director of the community. He himself has lived here since 1951. Nobody has ever helped them, he tells me. “But now Practical Action is here and is helping us, we are so happy!” he says, with a big toothless smile. He then shows me photos of the installation of some water pipes which they had installed with Practical Action’s help, these are necessary to control the waters flow. 

Señor Dueñas

When there is a landslide first of all a whole lot of rocks, sand, mud and stones come down into the village, destroying houses as they go (many houses are built on the hill). All this then jams up at some stage, and the continuous rainfalls then cause flooding. So after the people have been hit by a huge landslide, they are then flooded – and this is happening every year. Not every time as bad as in March this year though, where there even were 9 casualties.
Miluska tells me that the important thing in Chosica is to make sure that a landslide has a path to go, to avoid more damage than necessary. Otherwise is will look for a path, causing damage and casualties on its way. But people don’t understand this, and thus keep on putting up new buildings or walls where they actually should be leaving the space free.
Road cleaning is ongoing

The huge landslide and subsequent flooding of March is now almost 2 months ago. But you still see definite traces: streets are still being cleared, and sandbags still lie by the roadside where they were once put to protect houses from the nearing masses.
Sandbags on the roads in Chosica

So many houses still lie in devastation, and where they were not destroyed you the traces the water, mud and rock masses left on the walls, on the doors, in the streets. Miluska points to a big blue building up on the hill: “That’s the school of Chosica. It’s still closed”.

The school in Chosica

There’s so much more to tell, but I would definitely be stretching your patience if I do so. I have attached a couple of photos (unfortunately it wasn't a very bright day, it was the usual Lima gray in this time of the year).

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