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PERU: Little Help for Slum-Dwellers Left Homeless by Quake

Ángel Páez

PISCO, Peru, Aug 31 2007 (IPS) - "We have come here because God sent us," says pastor Pedro Leyva Díaz. He looks tired after distributing food, clothes and sweets in dozens of poor communities devastated by the earthquake in southern Peru.

 Credit: Claudia Alva Linares

Credit: Claudia Alva Linares

"God told us to go where the suffering was greatest, and here we are," he tells local residents who approach the truck laden with aid.

Leyva Díaz has visited all the main population centres in Túpac Amaru Inca, a conglomeration of irregular settlements in Pisco province that has experienced such growth that it was itself made a district, the smallest administrative subdivision in Peru, in 1986.

It is still expanding, in an unplanned and disorderly fashion, and is already home to nearly 18,000 people. The newest and poorest of Pisco’s eight districts is where this pastor of the "Peniel Good News" evangelical church in the district of San Martín de Porres, Lima has arrived.

The upper areas of San Clemente, another district where most of the irregular settlements in Pisco province are situated just five kilometres from the city of Pisco, look like they have been stamped on by giants.

The Aug. 15 earthquake, which marked 7.0 on the Richter scale, was most destructive of the weakest buildings, like homes built out of adobe bricks, the building material widely used in Peru’s irregular settlements where virtually all the residents are poor, and half of them are extremely poor.

Official figures released on Aug. 30 indicated that the earthquake with its epicentre in the Pacific ocean, off the coasts of the southwestern provinces of Pisco, Ica and Chincha, killed 519 people, injured nearly 1,400, left 45,000 homeless and caused millions of dollars worth of damage.

Non-governmental organisations say that there are still 40 people missing.

San Clemente grew considerably in size with the influx of thousands of people displaced from their homes by the armed conflict between guerrillas and state security forces between 1980 and 2000. The displaced people came particularly from Ayacucho, Apurimac and Huancavelica.

Maximiliana Curi, from Vinchos in Ayacucho, and Bernardina Azcona, from Castrovirreyna in Huancavelica, were attending a funeral mass in San Clemente church on the day of the earthquake. When the church collapsed, they lost seven relatives.

Now the two women between them are caring for nine orphans. They built a shelter on the rubble of what was a precarious adobe house, and the families share whatever they are able to get.

"Here they have only distributed a little water," complained Curi, dressed in full mourning. "My husband and I escaped from the war, and by bad luck we came to grief here, where we had started a new life. The earthquake killed my husband, and I have been left alone. No one has even come to ask us what we need," she told IPS.

The children of San Clemente come down from the town’s hillsides to the Southern Panamerican highway, where hundreds of vehicles loaded with food are passing by.

The trucks and cars have to slow down and crawl along a detour because of earthquake damage to the Huamaní bridge, so the children can approach drivers and bus passengers to beg for a few coins.

Since they cannot reach up to the windows of trucks and buses, they have invented a kind of collection basket, made by tying half a plastic bottle of mineral water to a stick.

Neither the dark, cold nights nor the "paracas" (strong winds from the Pacific ocean) deter them. They stay by the road, chasing the lights of the vehicles with their long arms of wood and plastic, and do not rejoin their families until the following day.

In Chincha, the earthquake also sowed destruction in Pueblo Nuevo, a district made up of about 20 irregular settlements home to over half of the 60,000 people in the province.

"We campaigned for Lucio Juárez Ochoa, and he became mayor of Pueblo Nuevo," says María Salguero de Paypay, showing campaign literature for the candidate that she had kept in her house, which was home to 10 people until the earthquake destroyed it.

"But now that Juárez is mayor, he hasn’t even shown his face around here where everything has been razed to the ground. That’s how he repays us. I’ll never support a candidate again," she said angrily.

Chincha, in the region of Ica, is in a border dispute with the province of Cañete, in the Lima region, over a grey sand desert called Pampa Larga. That is where the Peru LNG consortium has built its plant to liquefy natural gas piped from reserves in Camisea, at a cost of two billion dollars.

Both provinces are claiming sovereignty over the area between kilometres 167 and 170 of the Southern Panamerican highway, where the modern plant, called La Melchorita, is located. An icon of the country’s future, the plant is due to begin exporting gas in 2008, and will earn millions of dollars in the process.

But that is only one part of the country. A few metres away, just across the highway, over 700 families displaced in the past by political violence in the Andes founded the settlement of Nuevo Ayacucho, and now they have lost everything to the earthquake.

"We received nothing for a week after the earthquake. Then they sent us some food and water, but it was only enough for a small proportion of the 2,000 people who live here," Sabino Tapahuasco, the mayor of Nuevo Ayacucho, told IPS.

"I’m from Huamanga, the capital of Ayacucho, and I came to this community because I believed that we could have a better future here. But the earthquake has shown that the poor in Peru will go on being poor for a very long time," he said, with a touch of resignation.

"If that’s the case, then it would be better to die in the place where one was born. Why die here, so far away?" he concluded.

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