Peru earthquake: Overview of MSF activities

General situation

On Wednesday 15 August, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit the Peruvian coast. Around 600 people were killed, 2,000 wounded and tens of thousands left homeless. The most affected cities are Chincha, Pisco and Ica, located around 200 km south of the capital, Lima.

The first MSF team arrived in Pisco the day after the earthquake, to carry out an assessment. Today, 25 MSF staff, both Peruvian and international, are working together to provide assistance to the affected people. The MSF activities are focusing on mental health, medical care, distribution of relief items and water-and-sanitation in Pisco, in more remote affected areas to the east, and in Guadalupe to the south-east.

On Sunday 19 August, a cargo charter was sent from Bogota, Colombia, with 12 tons of medical and non-medical supplies, including tents to set up dispensaries and water and sanitation material. An arrival from Brussels on Sunday 26 August and another on Tuesday 28 August, will bring a total of six tons of drugs, medical supplies, and material to set up latrines. A fourth plane carrying 2,000 additional blankets and plastic sheeting is scheduled to arrive on Monday 27 August from BogotÃ?¡. A truck will arrive in Pisco on Tuesday 28 August with 6,000 blankets and two ramps for water distribution. This will bring the total amount of supplies brought in by MSF to 27 tons.


Mental Health

Ten days after the earthquake, offering psychosocial support to survivors has become one of the main priorities. Painful memories, which, up until now have been forgotten, are coming back to the surface. Despite this, mental health issues have not been incorporated into the national response strategy.

A team of eight MSF psychologists is offering mental health support to the affected people through group psycho-educative sessions, called ‘charlas’, and individual consultations for those who have pathologic distress syndrome. As of now, 544 people have benefited from the work of the MSF psychosocial team in Pisco city, and in the districts of San Clemente, Independencia, Humay, Huancano. More precisely, 21 ‘charlas’ and 23 individual consultations have been carried out. Further mental health activities will now start in Guadalupe.

Meanwhile, an MSF psychologist is assessing the psychosocial support being given to the survivors and their relatives in Lima hospitals.


Distribution of relief items and shelter

Most of the people affected by the earthquake have lost everything and are now lacking the most basic items needed to cope in daily life. Because their houses have been destroyed or because they are too shocked to return home, they are forced to live in the open or in makeshift shelters, with temperatures at night ranging from six to eight degrees Celsius. MSF has distributed 3,000 blankets to 1,250 families (around 6,000 people), with a special focus on children under five years of age, the elderly, and the disabled or injured, in 24 distribution sites in the districts of Independencia, Humay and Huancano. In addition to blanket distributions, MSF will start distributing basic hygiene material (soap, towels…), cooking equipment, and plastic sheeting.

Alongside local volunteers, MSF will also set up a transitory house designed for people living in camps across Pisco town. The objective is twofold: respect the dignity of the people and give them the opportunity to rebuild their own house while in accordance with cultural and social aspects.


Medical activities

Since the immediate aftermath of the quake, MSF’s medical teams have been assessing the medical needs in Pisco and the peripheral areas. Today, MSF is supporting one health centre in Humay and three health posts in Bernales, San Tadeo, and Cuchilla Vieja (east of Pisco) with technical support and the provision of drugs. Meanwhile, mobile clinics have been offering between 20 and 40 consultations per day in the remote villages, treating mainly acute respiratory infections, skin infections, urinary infections, and asthmatic reactions. When needed, MSF also treats patients with chronic diseases, as these could be fatal if left untreated. In order to control any epidemic outbreaks, MSF collects and analyses medical data and transmits them to medical local authorities.

It is estimated that around 800 patients were referred to the capital city of Lima with serious injuries. Out of these, between 80 and 100 people who have now returned to Pisco are likely to need closely follow-up. To take care of these patients, MSF will set up a ‘medical village’ in Pisco’s central area to offer post-operative care and medical follow-up. This structure will work as an outpatient department. In addition to this ‘medical village’, mobile teams with both a nurse and a psychologist will carry out home visits for those who are not able to reach the MSF facilities.

In the first days after an earthquake, numerous wounded people suffered from so-called ‘crush syndrome’, that can lead to an acute kidney insufficiency. Therefore, MSF has sent a nephrologist – a kidney specialist – to assess the capacity of dialysis units in the hospitals of Lima, Canete, Chincha, Pisco and Ica. Fortunately, these hospitals have the capacity to provide an adequate response to these specific needs.


Water-and-sanitation

In Pisco, thousands of homeless people are now staying in a number of collective camps spread all over the city. In these ‘albergues’, there is on average only one latrine for 147 people at the moment. Water tankers have been installed close to the ‘albergues’ so that people receive a minimum quantity of drinking water. However, hygiene conditions are very poor, without any bathing facilities, and the main concern is that there are no clear plans for the future.

In the districts of Independencia, Humay, and Huancano, some temporary water treatment plants have been organised. In the coming days, MSF will start the distribution of hygiene items, including soap, towels, basin, etc. The distributions will go hand in hand with an information and education campaign for the communities, with messages focusing on well-being and cleanliness. In a second phase, MSF will provide the communities with materials to build temporary bathing facilities.


Last evaluations

Recently, while the city of Pisco has received aid from many organisations, MSF assessments have revealed that several areas were still lacking basic assistance. Here are two examples in the two most affected provinces:

In Cabeza de Toro, a locality of 7,000 inhabitants north of Independencia district, the destruction was significant and the humanitarian situation is also worrying. Less than 200 blankets have been distributed and food distributions have been sporadic. While basic needs are not covered, medical consultations still cost four Peruvian soles (around 1.5 USD) and drugs up to six Peruvian soles. MSF is running mobile clinics with nurses and a psychologist throughout the area. A distribution of blankets started on Saturday 25 August.

Also on 25 August, an MSF team carried out a rapid assessment in the town of Guadalupe, located on the Pan-American road, in Ica province (southeast of Pisco). Up to 95% of the houses have been destroyed in the town centre, 60% in the surrounding areas (3,500 destroyed houses). Most of the 10,200 affected people are living in makeshifts shelters made up of cardboard and bed sheets. With no latrines and little water, hygiene conditions are also poor.

Almost two weeks after the earthquake, the people of Guadalupe have received very little or no aid, except some distributions of food and basic items. Survivors of the quake are in shock and urgently need psychosocial support, especially the children. On the medical side, people who were referred to Ica hospital for serious injuries were discharged too early and now need surgery and medical follow-up. The only functioning health centre in Guadalupe town has seen a 250% increase in the number of consultations. MSF has provided this structure with drugs and dressing material, and will organise home visits offering close post-operative/post-trauma medical care.

Two psychologists will hold psycho-educative ‘charlas’ and individual sessions. In terms of water and hygiene, MSF will open ‘well-being spaces’ where people will be able to wash themselves in proper conditions. Distribution of blankets and other basic relief items will start this week.