Updated 1 month ago

Beyond the floods: is it time for Peru to rethink its infrastructure?

The inability of the Peruvian government to contain El Niño –to the point it has turned into a natural disaster– is a sign of bad planning and inefficient investment. The phenomenon of El Niño, however tragic its current effects, could open an opportunity for the Peruvian government to re-think its institutions and cities. The rebuilding of shattered villages could come with better urbanization plans.

What is happening in Peru is not normal. In 2015, the government forecasted that in 2016 El Niño would have a big impact and took measures for its prevention. The measures included a budget of 3 billion soles, of which 2.4 billion were used. In fact, according to data recollected by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, 2015 was the year of highest investment in disaster prevention in the last 20 years. As the months passed, people in Peru were relieved that El Niño didn’t have as much of an impact as the government had predicted. However, the current disaster, including the overflow of Piura River, brings to question how much of that budget was properly executed.

Is it corruption? Is it bad planning? Or is it simply that the effects of El Niño are increasingly devastating? One could argue that Peru is suffering from a mixture of the three.

As most countries in Latin America, Peru is also involved in the Odebrecht controversy. The Brazilian conglomerate admitted having paid to the Peruvian government, between 2005 and 2014, 29 million dollars. In addition, three former presidents –Ollanta Humala, Alan García and Alejandro Toledo- are under investigation. So, it’s not uncommon for Peruvians to doubt the transparency of their politicians. In the case of the prevention budget, not only it was reduced after the alert of El Niño was deactivated, but, in general, was poorly executed. According to a report from El Comercio published in August of 2016, six municipalities were using less than 2% of their funds in prevention of disasters. Let’s not forget that these actions can also be considered as corruption.

Between corruption, bad planning and natural phenomena, there are people. Since there’s no clear regulation regarding endangered zones, Peruvians are building their homes in hillsides that, sadly, will end up destroyed by the current or future disasters. This is a sign of failure in the State.

Clearly, it’s a decisive moment for Peru and, even more, for Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the current president. With more than 100,000 people left homeless, thousands of houses to rebuild and close to one hundred Peruvians to mourn, it’s the time for the government to take measures –in this case, the right ones–. Aside from the necessary battle with corruption, the country needs to reconstruct its institutions; they have to work hand in hand to improve the roadmap for understanding and preventing disasters. If it’s done right, that will imply major changes in urban and rural areas.