update from Peru - responses to the earthquake

From Christian Aid:
Like a bomb had dropped on the town
September 03 2007

Edith Montero is the Christian Aid Programme Officer for Peru. In the wake of the earthquake she shares her experience of visiting the city if Ica to see how our partners are responding.

I went with our partners to deliver food and blankets to communities affected by the earthquake in Ica. I arrived at nightfall and, although I know Ica very well, I couldn’t work out where I was. The roads didn’t exist anymore and there were the remains of walls but you couldn’t see where one street finished and another began. I was struck by the sheer magnitude of the destruction - from Lima I hadn’t even been able to imagine it. It was as if a bomb had dropped on the town.

The roads didn’t exist anymore and there were the remains of walls but you couldn’t see where one street finished and another began. People had been forced out of collapsed buildings onto the pavement. I couldn’t get through the roads because they were so jammed with rubble and families

Yesterday I went with our partner Health Houses to an area outside the city where the mud brick houses had been destroyed by the earthquake.

There I saw a man sitting on the roadside with one of his children. His wife was in their house with their two children when the earthquake struck. She had grabbed her young son and daughter and covered them with her body. She died and her children survived unharmed.

With help from Health Houses, the community had already set up communal kitchens and drawn up comprehensive lists naming the people affected by the earthquake and what they needed. We brought tents, cooking kits and blankets and Health Houses immediately began distributing these vital items to those in need.

Health Houses was also providing emergency medical help, treating people with throat and eye complaints caused by the sand and those whose cuts and injuries had become infected.

It was hard to see how isolated these people were. State aid hadn’t arrived to some of the worst affected on the outskirts of town and rural areas.

The organisational capacity of the people in the face of such tragedy has been the most positive thing I’ve seen. They hadn’t just sat down crying, though I’m sure they cried at first, instead they became organised. Their ability to work together in the midst of tragedy is amazing and their willingness to share the few resources they had was wonderful to see.

It is important for us, Christian Aid, to support these partners because in places like Peru, the state is not strong enough to respond quickly. But Christian Aid can respond quickly through its local partners. These partners have worked with the community for 15 years and at the end of the day they knew the people affected by the earthquake and the best way of working with them.

An update from Oxfam here and Peru Support Group