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The overlooked flood victims of Peru

Results of Peru’s first-round presidential election were announced on Sunday, giving the left-wing nationalist Ollanta Humala a majority.

Mr Humala has positioned himself as a champion of the poor who intends to alleviate the poverty suffered by a third of Peruvians. However, having narrowly lost the 2006 race because of his fierce anti-capitalist messages, Mr Humala is keen to stress social programmes should not come at the expense of economic growth. Mr Humala says he looks to Brazil as an example of a strong economy combined with “social inclusion”. There will now be a run-off in June between Mr Humala and the second-placed candidate, Keiko Fujimori, a right-wing populist and daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori.

With the media focusing on the election, aid agencies are worried that victims of Peru’s devastating floods are being overlooked. Unusually heavy rainfall from the start of January has brought misery to many parts of Peru. Landslides and floods have killed 40 people and many tens of thousands have lost their homes. A spokesperson for Plan International has warned that families living in temporary shelters are in a desperate situation and so far they have received little help. One of the worst-affected regions has been Cusco, where the media reported on the tourists visiting Machu Picchu who had to be evacuated.  Meanwhile, thousands of Peruvian families in the Cusco region have lost crops and unless farmers have help to recover, food insecurity will worsen in the region.

Flooding has also been severe in the Ucayali region along the Amazon basin, where water levels have reached 2.5 metres in some towns and over 200 schools have been damaged. The Director of Education in Ucayali has warned that his region “is not prepared to face this natural disaster; it is an emergency beyond our capacities”. Aid agencies and organisations with links to the area have issued emergency appeals. Village Earth, which supports marginalized indigenous communities, has appealed for aid, reporting that the Ucayali River is running 10 metres higher than normal and causing wide-scale flooding in Loreto, as well as Ucayali. Whole communities have lost their harvests and are in need of food supplies. In addition, medicines and water-treatment supplies are urgently needed, since many children are already suffering from diarrhoea and fevers.

Aid agencies such as Plan International are sending emergency teams to help families in areas where they work, but say more response is needed from the international community. Now the first round of the presidential election has ended, the spotlight needs to turn towards the severity of the situation faced by Peru’s flood victims. Otherwise they may not receive the help they need.

Laurinda Luffman signature