Neglected story: Chosica mudslides

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog in the last month, I have notably shifted my attention away from Peru. While that is in some part due to the crises happening in my own country and in other developing countries, it also reflects some neglect of attention to Peru and the crises that happen here in this still developing country. I failed to speak about a catastrophe in Lima’s backyard and the hit-or-miss witness to hope and resilience in the history of environmental degradation and current recovery process.

Following abnormally heavy rains toward the end of March, several mudslides crashed through the Chosica, a small Peruvian city just 47 km outside of Lima. Boulders crashed through the poverty-stricken city of Chosica. At least seven people died, 65 houses were destroyed. Water, electricity and sewage systems were wrecked.

Amidst that sadness, many in Lima stepped up to assist. Chosica is still living amidst a 60-day state of emergency in order to restore those utility services. An NGO started collecting donations of clothing, water and cash in the plaza around the corner from my home. The Peruvian army and many students traveled to Chosica to help clean up the city. Even folks who could not be present in direct recovery efforts still remained in solidarity to some degree, as many districts in Lima cut off their water access for a few days to speed up the repair process and provide residents of Chosica with water.

Not everything was perfect about the response. The mayor of Lima (who is known for corruption) spent those days in Madrid, Spain and was slow to act on the issue. The majority in Lima, myself and most expats included, did not engage in the direct relief effort to clean up Chosica, which is still reeling to some degree.

Worst yet was the realization that these heavy rains were not the only reason for these boulders. Chosica is at the base of the foothills of the Andes, which have been deforested for profit over the last several decades. Without trees to help with erosion, this year’s mudslide was just the worst in a series of annual mudslides in Chosica.

Of course, I am hopeful as many Peruvian friends choose to speak louder in protest of deforestation and in support of reforestation efforts. Lima’s parks and recreation department, SERPAR started a program to plant one million trees “selected by forest specialists to be ideal for Lima’s ecosystem” by 2018, having planted 50 thousand in 2015. SERPAR is by no means perfect and seems to waste water with frequency, but they were at least attentive to Chosica and helped in reconstruction efforts.

Still, I know that many in Chosica will never receive full reparations. Also, many Peruvians I know expect the government to fall short of truly replanting trees and reducing the magnitude of future mudslides. In that case, it is best to look to the example set by areas like Nepal, where communities band together where their government fails.

*I learned about this work after it was mostly completed, but still I wish I had explored getting involved when a few U.S.-national exchange students spoke about volunteering.

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Nepal: Stay attentive to repetitive news

“Nepal earthquake, magnitude 7.4, strikes near Everest” I read, a little bewildered. Are my friends are behind the curve on posting current events to Facebook, I wondered. Maybe Facebook’s News Feed algorithms slipped up?

But again in rolled the bulletin coverage and Facebook updates that my friends in Nepal “were marked as safe.”* I realized that somehow the news was a near carbon copy from two weeks ago.

This repetition brought to mind the rapid succession of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita landing along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas. Worse still are entirely human-drive tragedies of increased police violence along racial lines and deaf ears to protests of structural violence. It starts to feel to crass to remind folks to give, pray and stay informed again. I mean, what difference does it make?

At the same time, a second seismic event only doubles the need for those actions.

In many ways, it proves further that we can do nothing to stop seismic events whether they happen in Nepal, Peru or California. We can only work to build community through recovery and reorganize to reduce the tragedy attached to these events in the future. Many in Nepal have been doing just that, both now and in the past. A friend in Nepal, Sarah, shared a piece written four months ago for National Earthquake Safety Day, which highlighted the incredible way the Nepalese communities have “prepared to be prepared” as the founder of the National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal, Amod Mani Dixit put it. Even while legislation was stagnant at the national level, people have come together before and after to be in community.

That’s one part of the message I forgot to share last week. It’s essential to be in community after these events, to realize our great potential as a united force. Perhaps “Be In Community” is its own step, but in my opinion Give, Pray, and Stay Informed all form part of that greater goal. Mostly, I just wanted to call attention to the incredible witness to that community I am seeing in updates from Nepal even amidst a second earthquake.

*If you’re one of those people not in Nepal marking yourself as safe, stop. Unmark yourself and think about why you felt the need to do that. (If it’s a glitch or a misclick, no hard feelings.)

Nepal: Responses to a tragedy

Earlier this week, I posted the following related to earthquake reveal in Nepal:

Give, pray (if you do), stay informed of other ways to help. / Donar, orar (si hagas), informarse de otras maneras para ayudar.

And the link: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/nepal-earthquake-relief-fund

To me, those are the three key steps to response to a tragedy. As always happens when I seem to know something innately, I reflected on each. Naturally that took the form of a blog post.

  1. Give — Moving forward from this sort of tragedy takes money. Especially when it occurs in the developing world, i.e. Nepal. Even the richest countries in the world would suffer and Nepal is far from that. Poor infrastructure left Nepal in far worse shape. It is right and just to give money to Nepal.

Except giving is not just the act of willfully releasing money. It means researching where that money goes and ensuring it will be used to help those who receive it. This step is not complete without ensuring that.

According to several friends on the ground in Nepal, the link I posted is a responsible place to send money. I urge you to send money there or another source that you know is reputable.

 

  1. Pray — I hesitated to put prayer forward because sometimes it gets lumped in with other parts of slacktivist culture. Many see prayer as a passive way to feel like you’ve “done enough,” much like writing #bringbackourgirls. Whether or not hashtag activism is effective, there is truth to the fact that some people do disengage after throwing out a few lines on the internet. Critics of prayer often suggest that it will influence similar apathy.

I argue that that is not in fact the case. Prayer is what you do when you have reached the limit of what you can. Of course, God does not need you to ask to send assistance. God is not a slacktivist. Prayer helps you keep the matter on your heart, in your thoughts, on your conscience, or whatever other metaphor you want to put to it. As God assists in the tragedy, God can assist you to resist complacency and keep in active mind, which can assist in my last step.

  1. Stay Informed — This is the most frustrating step. The step when you need to stay involved without actually doing anything. We cannot stop plate tectonics from shifting. Of course, it is critical to keep that in perspective. That frustration is nothing alongside the suffering felt by those inside the tragedy. Prayer can help you internalize that solidarity and compassion over frustration. It can also help you listen for new ways to get involved.

That does not necessarily mean volunteering. Most of us cannot exactly relocate to volunteer and oftentimes the infrastructure is not in place for volunteers to assist in any meaningful way. That said if you called to it, figure out how to do it right and volunteer.

For the rest of us, I am talking about innovative strategies to assist beyond a donation and prayer. Strategies that may not be super straight-forward, like working to reduce the tragedy when the plates inevitably shift again in Nepal or elsewhere in the world.

Peru could easily become Nepal within the next few decades. The infrastructure is disorganized and aging. The poorest live in houses like the one for which we helped to build a retaining wall back when we arrived in August. They are built on loose, rocky soil and up the sides of hills and mountains. Peru is situated on several shifting plates. Again, we cannot stop them shifting.

That does not mean we should ignore how human institutions contribute to the tragedy, especially in the developing world. We can generally reorganize such that no one is relegated to the most vulnerable areas of the world and extent promote earthquake-friendly infrastructure.

While most of us do not have the position or power to direct that planning, we can advocate and support accordingly. The HILTI Foundation or Earthquakes without Frontiers offers an intriguing and capable model for how to move forward and build intelligently and equitably to reduce tragedy in the future.

Of course, I am no expert in this. Urban organization is not specialty, but it is other folks’ primary area of interest. Best to just start with listening.

Also, remember to keep your expectations in check. Recognize that you may not be able to change everything, but that does not justify abandoning the cause. Prayer can ostensibly help you with that as well.