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Dispatches from Peru
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Abi Weaver, International Communications, American Red Cross
 
August 14, 2009

Coping with extreme cold

Quick Facts Box
  • Delivered 50 tons of supplies for current cold wave
  • Contributed $3.4 million following 2007 earthquake
  • Assisted nearly 44,000 Peruvians over the past 2 years
A Red Cross mobile medic team attends to a child���s urgent needs immediately after the 2007 Peru earthquake.
A Red Cross mobile medic team attends to a child’s urgent needs immediately after the 2007 Peru earthquake.

Hector Emanuel, American Red Cross

The tremor ��� measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale ��� was the worse Peruvians had experienced in more than 35 years.
The tremor – measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale – was the worse Peruvians had experienced in more than 35 years.

Scott DiPretoro, American Red Cross

Local Red Cross volunteers pay a neighborly visit to beneficiaries of the American Red Cross transitional shelter program two years after the Peru earthquake.
Local Red Cross volunteers pay a neighborly visit to beneficiaries of the American Red Cross transitional shelter program two years after the Peru earthquake.

Kate Wade, American Red Cross

Local Red Cross volunteers serving on the Community Disaster Response Team practice evacuating an injured person during a simulation exercise in Peru this spring.
Local Red Cross volunteers serving on the Community Disaster Response Team practice evacuating an injured person during a simulation exercise in Peru this spring.

Eric Baranick, American Red Cross
Peruvian children play a life-sized disaster risk reduction board game in Chincha���s central park during a community fair sponsored by the American Red Cross.
Peruvian children play a life-sized disaster risk reduction board game in Chincha’s central park during a community fair sponsored by the American Red Cross.

Eric Baranick, American Red Cross

While people in the United States are complaining about the oppressive summer heat, people south of the equator are suffering from temperatures of the opposite extreme. Peruvians, in particular, have been combating a severe cold wave since May.

In the Andean highlands, below-freezing temperatures coupled with frost, hail and snow threaten livestock and crops, putting the country’s food supply at risk.

“In mountainous areas, temperatures can dip 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit at night,” said Eric Baranick, head of programs in Peru with the American Red Cross. “These extreme conditions also pose significant danger to infants and small children, who increasingly suffer from malnutrition and pneumonia.”

The Peruvian Red Cross has been actively assisting families affected by the cold snap with medicine, blankets and food. Employees and volunteers, working with the American Red Cross in the region, also helped deliver more than 50 tons of these materials to assist more than 11,200 families.

Looking back and forward

Unfortunately, this current emergency is not the only time in recent years that the American Red Cross has been called upon to help in Peru.

Two years ago this weekend, on August 15, 2019, a 7.9 earthquake jolted the country’s central coastline, killing an estimated 500 people and leaving an additional 655,000 without homes, income or healthcare. At the quake’s epicenter in Pisco, it is estimated that 80 percent of the brick buildings, schools, roads and bridges were destroyed.

“Everything was chaotic, and you could hear the screams. The worst was hearing the cries (of people trapped in the rubble),” recalled Milagros, who was working at a textile factory in city of Chincha, north of Pisco, when the earth began to violently tremble.

Read more of her family's story

Since that time, the American Red Cross has contributed more than $3.4 million to help the local Red Cross procure relief supplies and jump start recovery activities. Additional aid was provided by other Red Cross and Red Crescent partners around the world to help quell the massive need. In the weeks and months that followed, Red Cross emergency workers provided:

  • emotional support for survivors; 
  • basic health care for the injured and vulnerable;
  • emergency shelter for landowners left instantly homeless;
  • and safe drinking water for communities cut off by the quake.

Today, a majority of survivors have opted to remain in the wood-framed transitional shelters provided by the American Red Cross. Not unexpectedly, recovery is slow in this impoverished region, yet residents report they are optimistic of the future and satisfied with their temporary living conditions.

For a month after the deadly quake, Milagros and her family slept on the street outside of their collapsed home, fearful of aftershocks. Each night, the men from their neighborhood would form a circle around the women and children, each taking a turn watching the darkness for looters and other threats.

“The Red Cross transitional shelters restored the survivors’ sense of security, dignity and ownership,” shared Kate Wade, program assistant with the American Red Cross, who recently returned from an assignment in Peru.

Making neighborly visits

Universally, survivors and relief workers agree that while natural disasters can cause catastrophic loss, they can also bring communities closer together. Peru is no exception.

A few weeks ago, just shy of the two-year anniversary, local Red Cross volunteers visited families recovering from the 2007 earthquake to document their progress. Many beneficiaries of the shelter program, including Milagros and her sister Rosario, offered to help with the house-to-house survey.

“To wear the symbol of the Red Cross meant that we felt respected and trusted amongst our fellow community members,” Milagros said proudly. “We live a hard life, (but) we want to provide happiness to others who have also suffered.”

The sisters, along with a handful of other volunteers, walked the sandy streets of four of the hardest hit towns, visiting families like theirs that received relief and building supplies from the American Red Cross after the disaster. As they knocked on doors, they heard and saw evidence of community’s post-quake bond.

“(The Red Cross) taught us how to work in teams (and) organize ourselves after the earthquake,” said Milagros, referring to how the Red Cross empowered local community leaders to lead the recovery efforts and how neighbors helped each other rebuild. 

See how residents customized their temporary homes

Today, survivors are also partnering with each other and the Red Cross to better prepare their community for future emergencies, for example, by:

  • building quake-resistant homes;
  • educating children about the hazards;
  • organizing response teams and drills;
  • training in first aid skills; and
  • rebuilding schools.

To learn more about the Red Cross response to the 2007 earthquake and ongoing programs, visit the “Where We Work” section for Peru.  

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.



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