By Julie Minda from The Catholic Health Association of the United States.
Torrential rainfall has caused widespread and devastating flooding in Peru, killing over 100 people, injuring more than 100,000 and rendering 700,000 people homeless. Destruction of roads and bridges has isolated villages and hampered deliveries of food and drinking water. Catholic organizations are among the responders attempting to provide emergency aid and to lay the groundwork for a longer-term response.
The ministry experts who spoke to Catholic Health World said the needs of the Peruvian people are extensive, and the global response to their needs has been slow so far. They said rebuilding from the devastation will take years.
“People throughout Peru have been ravaged by the flooding,” said Camille Grippon, director of ecology and global ministries for Bon Secours Health System of Marriottsville, Md. That health system has provided emergency aid to Peruvian communities served by the Sisters of Bon Secours.
Grippon said scores of people have lost their homes and belongings in those communities since mid-March. Stagnant and contaminated floodwater poses a continuing and significant risk for water-borne illness like dengue.
About half of Peru’s 25 departments, or regions, have experienced destruction from what, according to information from Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, is the worst flooding to hit the country in 20 years. According to information from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations organization, as of late March, nearly 800 miles of roads have been destroyed, and 159 bridges have collapsed.
“The post-rainy season will bring many more challenges with disease and difficult medical problems, as well as the need to rebuild,” said Sr. Mary Jo McGinley, RSM, executive director of Global Health Ministry of Newtown Square, Pa., a ministry aid organization operating in Peru. She said, “Assistance will be required for a long time.”
Catholic organizations with a presence in Peru, including the Sisters of Bon Secours; Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio; and Global Health Ministry, told Catholic Health World about their relief efforts.
The Sisters of Bon Secours have ministries focused on aiding vulnerable communities, especially women and children in three effected northern Peruvian regions: La Libertad, Piura and Ancash. Severe flooding hit all three regions, according to Grippon. She said impoverished squatters who had erected rickety homes in floodplains lost everything; yet many of them stayed on the plots of land after their homes had washed away, to keep claim to the property.
Grippon said in mid-April that many of the villages the Sisters of Bon Secours serve were isolated by the infrastructure damage and running out of basic supplies, and yet governmental help was very slow to come. Sr. Rosalinda Pajuelo, CBS, superior country leader of Peru, said in some communities, after local leaders evacuated, Bon Secours sisters “were the only ones left there. The sisters refused to leave. They said, ‘If we leave, what happens to the community?'”
The Sisters of Bon Secours Peru own and manage Clinica Madre de Cristo, a 32-bed hospital in Trujillo. That facility deployed medical aid teams and treated injured flood survivors in the hospital, all at no cost to patients. It has served hundreds of patients per week, according to Grippon.
Grippon said the U.S. Bon Secours health system and congregation coordinated an effort with the Americares emergency aid organization to distribute more than $800,000 in food, medicines and medical supplies from multiple pharmaceutical companies in regions served by the Sisters of Bon Secours ministries and impacted by the flooding. The Bon Secours Health System provided over $250,000 in cash for emergency efforts in the regions where the sisters work. That donation is separate from the Americares funding.
Bon Secours also is in touch with U.S. and Peruvian government officials, advocating for a prompt, effective response to on-the-ground needs.
Sr. Juanita Albracht, CCVI, worked in Peru for 18 years, but retired to her native U.S. prior to the floods. She has been in close contact since the flooding began with the congregation’s Peruvian ministries, which primarily are in the Ancash region of northern Peru. The congregation provides health care to poor communities in the region, operating a clinic, hospice and outreach services.
Sr. Albracht said that while there was water damage to the clinic and hospice, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and facility staff were able to keep the facilities open, and they tended to community members, providing medical aid and psychological counseling, and helping people access food and other supplies.
Leaders of the U.S. Incarnate Word congregation and the health system it co-sponsors, CHRISTUS Health, used their contacts in Latin America to reach a general in the Peruvian army, who transported five tons of food and supplies purchased by the congregation to the isolated, and supply-starved city of Chimbote, the locus of the sisters’ Peruvian ministries.
Mark Tribo, a lay missionary in the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word’s hospice program, said vast swaths of agricultural land have been destroyed, which will have a long-term impact on the local economy.
Global Health Ministry, the global outreach arm of Trinity Health, partners in Peru with the Diocese of Chulucanas and with Sisters of Mercy serving in Chulucanas in the Piura region of northern Peru.
Global Health Ministry is raising money to support direct diocesan aid to flood victims in Chulucanas. Also, as Catholic Health World went to press, Global Health Ministry’s Sr. McGinley had planned to travel to Peru the second week of May, after the end of the heaviest rains of the rainy season, to assess how best to utilize mobile medical volunteers for an early June aid trip, and what supplies to bring.
Sr. McGinley said “it is our Gospel mandate” to respond to the dire needs of the people of Peru. She said people across that country have been selflessly helping one another, despite their own losses. “It is an honor to join them in this effort.”
Sr. Albracht said, “The people of Peru had many needs before the floods came. Now my message to the Catholic health ministry is do not forget these people. They truly need our help.”
Permission granted by Catholic Health World, May 15, 2017
Copyright © 2017 The Catholic Health Association of the United States
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On the header: People cling to a rope and each other to cross floodwaters in La Rinconada, a town in the Puno region of Peru, in the Andes.