'At first it felt like I was looking at a bomb site.'
Can you describe the first things you saw when you arrived in the affected zone?
In Pisco, at first it felt like I was looking at a bomb site. People were wandering about in the streets in a state of confusion and loss. There was no access to basic services. In the most affected areas, like the towns of Pisco, Chincha and Ica, between 50% and 90% of the buildings had been destroyed. Four hospitals have been reduced to rubble and another four were severely damaged. So far, about 400 aftershocks have been recorded, some of which have reached over 5.5 on the Richter Scale.
What are the main difficulties facing the delivery of humanitarian aid?
Access routes have been badly damaged. For example, some parts of the Pan-American highway have virtually collapsed. Reaching Pisco from Lima took us three times longer than usual. Even though it is a bit less chaotic now, humanitarian aid has still not reached some areas yet.
What is MSF doing?
On August 18, MSF chartered a flight from Bogota loaded with 12 tons of relief goods and organized an emergency response team. After the first assessments conducted in the area, the intervention began to focus on the most isolated settlements where humanitarian aid had not arrived yet.
The area where the MSF team is providing medical and psychological care is located east of Pisco town, along the road between Humay and Independencia (where up to 25,000 people live). So far, we have distributed blankets, hygiene kits and shelter materials for 7,000 people in Humay. We are also assessing water and sanitation facilities to be able to provide a quick response if needed. We are the only aid agency there for the moment.
Medical supplies and drugs are lacking. Another important issue is directly linked to mental health. In order to reduce trauma and respond to the most urgent psychological needs, MSF is launching a mental health programme. Medical care and psychological support will be provided in the existing health centres and through mobile clinics. Drugs for respiratory infections, skin diseases and trauma are also being provided.
How many people make up the intervention team?
So far, the intervention team is made up of 12 international volunteers and 12 members of the national staff, including doctors, psychologists, nurses, logisticians, water and sanitation technicians, and drivers. We estimate that the intervention will last two months.
What are the major risks the population faces now?
As it usually happens in these types of disasters, children are the most vulnerable. Respiratory infections affect them severely. The rapid assessment conducted in Montesierpe, a community close to Humay, revealed that about 15% of the children with respiratory infections had severe complications.
What has particularly affected you about this crisis?
From a human perspective, the strong, deeply rooted community spirit amongst the population in the area has amazed me the most. I have seen people older than 70 who spent the night in the open keeping watch in shifts to protect one another. They have nothing, they have lost everything but the capacity to lend a helping hand. In the midst of widespread havoc, the way the affected people spontaneously organize themselves is impressive.