Torrential rains, huaicos (the Quechua word for mudslides), and floods have impacted different regions of Peru since January 2017 due to the presence of a coastal El Niño event that consists of an unusual warming of the ocean from a reduction in cold northerly air currents along the Pacific coast. This phenomenon lets in hotter winds that blow in from Ecuador, which causes the naturally cool sea to warm up to about 21 °Celsius. That leads to water evaporation, and in turn, heavy storms, according to the webpage for the National Study on the El Niño Phenomenon (ENFE, per its Spanish acronym). ENFE comprises a group of Peruvian agencies dedicated to scientific research on this atmospheric disturbance.
According to the latest bulletin from the National Emergency Operations Center for the first week of April 2017, the number of victims and others who have been impacted has increased to nearly 1.2 million. The report indicates that, nationwide, a total of 106 people have died and 213,845 homes have been affected by these natural disasters.
The armed forces of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and the United States, among others, have aided their Peruvian neighbor in the humanitarian aid and rescue efforts. “The aid we have received is quite varied, from the delivery of meals ready-to-eat, nonperishable foods, water, medical supplies, water tanks, canopies, mobile hospitals, canned foods, transportation for personnel and civil defense (brigade members), clothing, blankets, and bedding, among other items,” Peruvian Air Force General Mario Raúl Contreras León Carty told Diálogo. The general is deputy commander for the Air Operations Command, the mission of which is to plan, organize, direct, and conduct joint operations and military actions to fulfill the domestic and international tasks assigned to it.
“In the case of Colombia, we had support from [four] helicopters that logged a total of 18 days of service in the March 2017 operation. The Argentine Air Force sent a C-130H (TC-64) aircraft that operated for 11 days in Peruvian airspace. In the case of Chile, we had support from a C-130H (991) from the Chilean Air Force, which operated for 15 days between March and April 2017. Brazil provided support with two Brazilian Air Force C-130H planes (numbers 2474 and 2475) which operated for 22 days between March and April. The U.S. Air Force also supported us with two C-130J plans (numbers 45791 and 46312) over a total of 14 days,” Gen. Contreras stated.
“In terms of humanitarian aid, we had aircraft from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico. They supported specifically by providing air bridges, transferring water bottles and water tanks, search-and-rescue gear, search personnel, mobile hospitals, and mattresses,” Gen. Contreras added.
Aircraft used against drug trafficking added to the support efforts
One of the first actions taken to ascertain the impact of the emergency was to dispatch six Peruvian helicopters and 10 helicopters owned by the U.S. government and used in the fight against drug trafficking, in order to aid citizens in rescue operations and deliver food and water to areas across the country that were affected by floods and mudslides. “The U.S. Air Force helicopters are part of our operations against illegal drug trafficking in the valley basins of the Apurímac, Mantaro, and Marañón Rivers, which are the main drug croplands and drug manufacturing areas in Peru. These aircraft are flown by Peruvian pilots,” Peruvian Minister of the Interior Carlos Basombrío detailed in his press statements.
“Another four helicopters from [the Ministry of the] Interior are currently flying over various regions to assess the damage and deliver water and essential supplies to the victims as well as helping to rescue residents. In addition, aid is being brought in on one [cargo] plane and three light airplanes,” Minister Basombrío added.
Help from up north
In March 2017, U.S. Ambassador to Peru Brian A. Nichols announced an initial aid package of $525,000 for Peru, to supply water and sanitation to cities hit by these disasters. Added to that aid were 13 Regional Emergency Operation Centers, valued at $20 million, which was financed in Peru by U.S. Southern Command’s Humanitarian Assistance Program.
“We are working shoulder to shoulder with Peru in the face of this humanitarian emergency situation. Peru is not alone. We stand in solidarity with the people and government of Peru and we are committed to cooperating with the emergency response effort and in Peru’s recovery,” Ambassador Nichols said.
According to information from the U.S. Embassy in Peru, the U.S. Department of Defense has also donated $270,000 for the purchase of water-purification systems, portable solar generators, and water pumps, which are being distributed to the affected areas. The Peruvian Ministry of Defense ordered a freeze on discharges and the Peruvian military now has 25,000 service members aiding in the emergency.