Domino effect of El Niño in Peru

Paula Bayarte

Piura, Peru, Sept 19 (EFE).- “Dengue kills,” reads a large sign on the cemetery doors of a small settlement in the Piura region in northern Peru. Deaths from this disease have multiplied by five in 2023 compared to 2022, and they are just one of the consequences of coastal El Niño, a phenomenon that makes the poor even more vulnerable.

Old sandbags with discolored bottoms accumulate next to the walls of buildings in Piura, a painful reminder of the heavy rains that have affected the region.

Coastal El Niño, a rare phenomenon caused by rising sea surface temperatures off the coasts of Peru and Ecuador that intensifies and extends the rainy season, has historically affected thousands.

It is so rare that its most recent records are from 1925 and 2017, which is why scientists are intrigued that in 2023, just six years after the most recent record, coastal El Niño is back.

In early 2017, it devastated Piura, causing heavy rains that damaged homes, raised food prices, destroyed jobs, ruined crops, and spread disease.

“We suffered a lot because we didn’t think that such a heavy rain would come, it affected our houses and the animals we raised ourselves (…) we lost everything and work became scarce, food went up, and there was nothing to buy, everything was too expensive,” Elsa Cheros, a neighbor of Mocará, told EFE.

With watery eyes, she recalls how water entered most homes in March due to leaks and how a nearby river overflowed, affecting the town.

She regrets what has been lost, but also, along with other local women, she claims that aid never came and they can’t afford the repairs on their own. Authorities promised them help months ago, but it has yet to come.

These repairs are necessary to face El Niño, expected to hit even harder in late 2023.

“Public investment projects are necessary,” says Josué Porras, an Action Against Hunger’s water and sanitation technician, standing in front of giant drums that the organization installed to guarantee access to drinking water.

Neighbors line up to fill their buckets from the new drums, set up for times of climate emergency and to reduce economic vulnerability.

Porras also points to a plan to clean basins and drains to prevent water from accumulating and to guarantee the freshwater supply.

A range of vulnerabilities

“When it rains, the crops are affected, the farms are flooded, and the population needs basic food because there is no production,” says the technician.

The rain affects families who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. It damages crops used for subsistence and small-scale sales, reducing the local’s food intake and income.

In addition to the economic impact and food insecurity, El Niño multiplies rain-related diseases such as dengue fever and gastrointestinal problems due to stagnant water.

In communities without running water, neighbors also take advantage of the rains to store water, which, when done improperly, favors the reproduction of the dengue mosquito (Aedes Aegypti) and harmful viruses and bacteria.

“Unclean water contains pathogens, bacteria, and viruses. In an emergency, the population may find it necessary to drink untreated water, and by consuming it, they can easily contract respiratory, gastrointestinal, or skin diseases,” says Porras.

The impact of dengue

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