Droughts exacerbated by El Niño widen poverty gaps in Peru

Paula Bayarte

Huancayo, (Peru) Dec 20 (EFE).- While the typical image of El Niño in Peru involves flooding and houses being washed away by heavy rains, in the southern area of the Andes, the damage is almost invisible. The droughts caused by the phenomenon act like a slow-moving disease, weakening livestock and ruining crops for already vulnerable farming families.”

“When the drought worsens, our crops are damaged. On top of the fact that there is no water, there is ground frost. All this causes economic loss. You will see that we live only from agriculture and planting, hoping that it will give us some profitability to feed our family,” Timotea, a farmer in the High Andes, told EFE.

From her field of potatoes and corn in the town of Nueva Esperanza, in the department of Junín (western range), Timotea looks frustrated at the cracked soil as she recalls last year’s crop loss due to lack of rain.

“Potato prices are low, and that affects our production, and we don’t have much to produce,” says Mila, also a farmer, taking a short break from her work while chewing coca leaves.

Mila and her husband, like the rest of their neighbors, make a small investment each year in seeds and fertilizer, but when the drought hits hard, their vulnerability increases to the point where their food security is at risk.

“The losses in these places are very large, right now we see that many farmers are working, but the investment they made is not always recovered (…) if they do not recover it, they lose the capital and they will suffer all year,” says the national adviser on disaster risk management and climate change of Save the Children in Peru, Luis Romero.

Fear of El Niño in 2024

“We are afraid because (droughts) come just like that, no training is given, no one or nothing prepares us, and we don’t know how to defend ourselves or what to do. Sometimes we are desperate because there is not much information, it catches us off guard,” says Timotea from her land, at 3,000 meters above sea level.

In San José de Apata, another small town even higher, community vice president Elvis de la Cruz recounts the same problem farmers and ranchers suffered last year and fears it will repeat.

“We were hit pretty hard by the drought and there was ground frost. What we needed was rain. So production dropped quite a bit (…) because potato plants did not grow normally, and production dropped by almost 50%,” he says.

The latest report from the Multisectoral Commission for the National Study of the El Niño Phenomenon predicted below-normal rainfall in the south of the country in the coming months, “especially in the southeastern highlands,” and the government has declared an emergency alert for 316 districts because of the risk of water shortages.

“We want the local government, the regional government, to be aware of this and to come and see what our needs are. In times of drought, we need them to build us cochas (small reservoirs or artificial ponds) so that we can have water for our permanent irrigation and also for the animals so that they can drink,” says the vice president of San José, Apata District.

Several experts agree that solutions can be found by combining technological advances and accurate weather predictions with traditional Andean methods such as water harvesting, planting of certain types of crops and the restoration of traditional irrigation channels.

However, he warns that there are no public policies to finance this type of project and that the solutions are given when the drought has caused damage, so it is essential to pay more attention to rural communities to ensure at least food security. EFE


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