Pisco, 27th August 2007 – Almost two weeks after the earthquake in Peru, the situation for victims is no longer mentioned in the international media and on the ground, several aid organisations have started to leave the area. However, MSF teams continue to see forgotten populations in desperate need of assistance. One example is Guadalupe, a town of 12,000 inhabitants located 100 km southeast of Pisco in the suburbs of Ica city.
“I was deeply shocked by what I saw in Guadalupe when we arrived this Saturday,” says Luis Encinas, MSF’s Emergency Coordinator. ”It felt like the day after the earthquake, not two weeks later,” he explained. In the town centre, 95% of the houses have been destroyed or severely damaged, and people are living in the streets in unhygienic conditions. No aid has come to Guadalupe, even though it is on the country’s main highway.
Although the availability of services such as medical care in the main city, Ica, is slowly improving, the situation in Guadalupe remains extremely precarious. Around 10,200 people have been affected and the town’s only health centre has been overwhelmed by a 250% increase in the number of consultations. MSF has responded by providing emergency medical care to patients in need and making donations of drugs, medical equipment and blankets.
“We visited some houses and we met a woman who had been squashed under a wall with her child still in her arms,” explains Dr Loreto Barcelo, MSF’S Medical Head. “The woman broke her foot and the little girl suffered multiple pelvis fractures. However,when they visited the health centre, the child was only given a plaster and then discharged within 48 hours. The mother, who needed orthopaedic surgery, was probably not even treated because the health staff were so overwhelmed.” Today, while the rest of the family spends nights in the street fearing another earthquake, both are bedridden, helpless, in the only part of the house left standing.
This example shows the terrible consequences of the earthquake on the mental health of people. “After more than ten days without receiving aid, sometimes living with up to 40 people in one tent, these people feel abandoned, and not recognized as victims of the earthquake,” says Zohra Abaakouk, who is responsible for the MSF mental health programme. “But they try to organise themselves as best they can, despite pains, sleeping troubles, fears or anxiety…” To alleviate the suffering of these people and to prevent a worsening of their mental state, a team of MSF psychologists immediately started providing psychosocial support. They hold psycho-educative group sessions, called ‘charlas’, and individual consultations if needed.
In the makeshifts shelters made of cardboard and bed sheets in front of their destroyed houses, families are living in the cold and unhygienic conditions. They have no latrines, no drinking water and no real space to wash themselves. MSF will develop ‘wellbeing spaces’, with access to water, bathing facilities and latrines, so that the people will be able to live in acceptable conditions. In addition, distribution of blankets and other basic relief items will start this week.
Luis Encinas, MSF’s Emergency Coordinator, expresses his concern: “Almost two weeks after the earthquake in Peru, the situation of the victims is hardly mentioned in the international media and, on the ground, several aid organisations are starting to leave the area. However, the needs remain huge in the region and MSF teams continue to see populations in desperate need of assistance, and who have been forgotten. This situation is unacceptable. Action is urgently needed to prevent these people from living in such unacceptable conditions.”
In Peru, 25 MSF staff, both Peruvian and international, are working together to provide assistance to the people affected by the earthquake. The MSF activities are focusing on mental health, medical care, distribution of relief items and water-and-sanitation. Teams are working in Pisco, in more remote affected areas to the east, and since recently, in Guadalupe (south-east).