Heavy Rains Once Again Scatter the Poor in Asunción
Only a small proportion of the families lived in homes that went untouched by the flood waters, or were livable shortly after the water level went down, because of their location on ground that is higher but still vulnerable.
Two decades without serious flooding encouraged rural migrants to build homes on even lower-lying land along the river, and prompted long-time residents to improve and expand their homes or buy more expensive household appliances – all of which made the losses even worse.
The new cycle of floods began in mid-2014.
And this year ENOS, which warms the waters of the Pacific ocean and affects weather around the world, led to intense rains and the overflowing of the Paraguay river since November, making life miserable for the riverbank dwellers.
Benita Falcón had such a bad time in a shelter in 2014 that this time she decided to do whatever she could to stay in her neighbourhood, in a house on a spot of higher-lying ground, which has turned into an island. In the shelter, “people didn’t respect each other, and we’d go a week without clean water to drink, a working toilet or electricity, or a month without assistance from the government,” she recalled.
“We use a boat to move around when we have to; we withstand storms, rains and snakes invading the house,” said Falcón, 48, who has six children and six grandchildren. She moved from Bañado Sur to Bañado Norte 27 years ago to live with her husband. Besides gathering recyclable materials on the streets, she raises pigs, chickens and cows. “The culture in the Bañados is a rural one,” she said.
“There is no state policy for the Bañados, no disaster prevention; they already knew about El Niño and measures weren’t taken, shelters weren’t organised,” lamented Maria Garcia, “born and raised” in Bañado Norte. The 44-year-old mother of two is the local head of Cobañados, a network of 10 community organisations.
Her house is still cut off by a flooded street, a few metres away from a pond that was once the community sports field. She has found shelter in the home of relatives in the neighbouring city of Loma.
But SEN’s Avendaño said “We help the evacuees with materials for the house and food for everyone, mattresses for those who need them, and everyone has water and electric power.”
A definitive solution, he said, would be to resettle them elsewhere, such as in the municipality of Itauguá, 30 km southeast of Asunción.
He announced that 1,000 housing units would be built next to the Botanical Garden on the north side of Asunción, with development aid from U.N.-Habitat and other United Nations agencies, the European Union and the United States. “But many people don’t want to leave the Bañado,” he added.
Besides their discrepancies regarding official aid, Cobañados advocates the construction of the Coastal Avenue, which is 3.8 km long and is to be extended an additional 22 km, closer to the riverbank, to provide a kind of dike that would protect the Bañados.
With floodgates and pumps, such as the systems used to reclaim land in the Netherlands and in other cities in Paraguay like Pilar and Concepción, neighbourhoods prone to flooding would be preserved, and it would be much less costly than filling in the wetlands, raising the ground and rebuilding everything, as the government is thinking of doing.
The government’s proposal is not only costly but could push the local Bañados residents out to make way for the wealthy and for companies.
But “it is not sensible, it would modify the ecosystem terribly,” said Elías Díaz Peña, head of the local environmental organisation Sobrevivencia (Survival).
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes
Pictures for this story
This story includes downloadable print-quality images — Copyright IPS, to be used exclusively with this story.
- A street in a middle-class neighbourhood in the south of Asunción, where the evacuees from Bañado Sur built makeshift dwellings after their homes were flooded by the overflowing of the Paraguay river. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS
- Néstor Colman, one of those evacuated due to the flooding of the Paraguay river in Bañado Sur in Asunción, next to Cleto Pérez, founder of the 1811 Movement which is organising the struggles of the residents of the Bañados neighbourhoods. Behind them is Colman’s kiosk in one of the makeshift shelters of the evacuees. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS
- One of the many streets in Bañado Norte still flooded in March 2016, weeks after the Paraguay river overflowed its banks in the capital, Asunción, which led to the evacuation of nearly 14,000 families from poor neighbourhoods built on low-lying land prone to flooding. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS
- In the front, homes destroyed by the flooding in Bañado Sur, one of the poor neighbourhoods on the banks of the Paraguay river in Asunción. In the centre, huts built slightly higher up by those who refused to leave the area. And in the background, the garbage dump that drew many of the local residents to these wetlands prone to frequent flooding. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS