Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Emergency in Urubamba

These photos are from Emily and Kusi, two of my friends who live in Urubamba.

Hi everyone.

So this post diverges from Barcelona and takes you back to Urubamba, Peru, which desperately needs our help right now. For days now, the rains have been pouring down over the province of Cusco--67% in excess of normal levels, according to the weather service--completely flooding the region. These are said to be the worst rains in the area in 15 years, following the beginning of a wet season that was drier than normal. The government of Peru has declared that the province of Cusco is now a disaster area.

I remember how my family in Urubamba would comment that they were worried when it didn't start raining more frequently in November; then they were just worried about the fact that plants weren't getting the nutrition they needed, but now it's apparent that this left the soil dry and unable to soak up the water that begin its torrential downpour at the beginning of the weekend.

The destruction is terrible; 600 homes have been lost in Pisac, 100 in Urubamba, and at least 3,000 homeless in Ollantaytambo. The bridge over Pisac is destroyed. There is now only one bridge that goes to Cusco, and only light cars can pass over it for fear that it, too, will collapse. On the scale of all of Cusco, there are at least 13,000 people who have been affected by this flooding, 10 of them confirmed deaths, and more than 2,000 affected houses. Some 2,000 tourists are also stranded on Machu Picchu and in Aguas Calientes and are being rescued bit-by-bit by helicopters. The governor of Cusco province, Hugo Gonzales, estimated that the damages will cost at least $285 million.

The hardest part for me, however, is not simply the sheer mass of people who have been victim to mother nature's capricious temperament, but to see the pictures and know that this is happening in a place that I hold dear to my heart, a place I call home. My friends in Urubamba, all of whom, thankfully, are okay, told me that everything is even worse in Yucay than in Urubamba itself (Yucay is a town right next to Urubamba). I spent much of my time working on the stoves project in Yucay and I know all the little roads of that town like the back of my hand. Many of the houses we visited there were close to the river and it makes me incredibly sad to imagine those strong, welcoming, and kind people watch everything they know be washed away by the muddy, rain-swollen Río Vilcanota. I remember the day one woman proudly showed us her back yard, a little orchard with a gate that led you down a small slope towards the river. I can't bear to think that now that may be gone and she is one of many now living in tarp tents and hoping for help to come soon. My Peruvian stoves boss, Jaime, and his wife, Irma, were building a home in Yucay bit-by-bit, working on it during weekends and evenings off. I learned yesterday that it, too, was destroyed by the river. The streets I knew so well now covered by water, families wading through to try and save important belongings, then retreating again to higher ground, able only to watch as the flood takes its course and their house. I consider Urubamba my home, a part of who I am, and they say that everything is harder to bear when it hits closer to home.

There is some effort organized, at least, for the tourists who are trapped on Machu Picchu, as helicopters have been sent to lift them out. This aid, however, is not coming fast enough, as there are so many tourists still to rescue and their supplies of food and water are rapidly dwindling. The small towns of the Sacred Valley, the towns that I know so well, however, are still suffering and need help desperately. So far there seems not to be much international attention on the problems there, but we need to keep looking and bring the minds of the rest of the world to bear on Peru. Not just on the tourists, but on the people who have lost everything and are stranded, some even stranded from the market where they would go weekly for food, people now without potable water, close to losing power (if the water inundates the power lines any more, short-circuiting them or toppling them). Let's all please keep Peru in our thoughts and prayers and hope the rains stop so this whole mess can be figured out soon.

Sources and More Information:
Current as of 27 January 2010

La República Perú (video/photos)
BBC (readers' stories and pictures)
BBC (with video)
El País (Spain)
El País (Spain, photos of Machu Picchu/Aguas Calientes)


  1. More than 500,000 hectares of crop land have been lost around Urubamba, which will completely devastate the economy and livelihood of this region. Most of the residents around Urubamba rely on subsistence farming to provide for the needs of their families. The majority of the crops lost were high-quality corn, potatoes, and haba beans. More from La República Perú:

    Still, the only international attention I have seen regarding this disaster has been by governments sending helicopters to rescue their stranded tourists. We need to get the word out to get aid in from the rest of the world!

  2. The Public Defender Office of Cusco said this morning that the Committee of Regional Emergency Operations of Cusco has prioritized the relocation and replacement of houses, guaranteeing clean water and electricity, and economic compensation lost in the agricultural sector, all to reestablish the vitality of the region so affected by the torrential rains.

    They have organized a group of volunteers in the city of Cusco, which will begin with efforts to collect information about, evaluate, and then identify victims of the floods and then create a registry of people who were affected to be able to help them with greater ease.

    Hopefully this mobilized help can work its way out of Cusco and into Yucay, Pisac, Anta, Ollantaytambo, Calca, Urubamba, and all the other small towns of the Sacred Valley destroyed by the river.

    More info from La República Perú:

  3. The Peruvian people in Cusco and especially in non-affected provinces are starting to organize relief efforts for those affected by the flooding. The most important efforts right now are to get food and clean water to the people, along with clothing and cooking supplies. A lot of work is being done by the Arco Iris organization, with drop-off stations in Lima and Cusco. Good to see that aid can start getting to those who so desperately need it right now!

    The unfortunate thing is that agencies such as the Red Cross still have not made it into the area. The people desperately need medical assistance and it's not getting to them. More from Aeronoticias Perú:

    Emily's words got to the BBC! I sent them some of her photos and they contacted her. Hopefully this will help to garner international attention about the importance of taking care of the locals as well as the tourists.

  4. Finally, I know a way that we can help if we don't live in Peru! The Spirits of the Earth Foundation, a non-profit organization working in Peru, is sponsoring a PayPal money collection in which 100% of the money donated will go to rebuilding the lives of those affected in the Sacred Valley. My friends that live in Peru support and trust this NGO 100% so you can know that your money is going to a trustworthy place and will be well-used. It is desperately needed; for all the Peruvian government is saying, they still are only focusing their help efforts on tourists and not on the locals who have nothing left.

    Here is how you can donate:
    HOW TO DONATE: If you go to choose send money online, the first field will ask (email address) = THEN amount. Then click in PERSONAL, mark GIFT and then continue. You then will enter another screen that will ask for YOUR paypal account password - if you have questions send me a note. THANKS!

    For more information you can visit their Facebook page:

  5. Here's a video of the damage in Urubamba, taken driving down the pista.

  6. The official death toll has now risen to 20. There is still very little information out internationally about the damage in the towns; the majority of the press remains focused on the situation of tourists at Machu Picchu. All have now been safely airlifted out, but no word yet as to how the government will help their own people.

    More information from the BBC:

    Pictures of the airlift:

    Finally, a story about the damage in the villages and how Peruvians are rallying to help:

  7. Now that the rains have stopped and the waters are receding, the time has come for Cusqueños to figure out the damages and slowly begin the painful process of rebuilding their lives. The simple number figures that this disaster has caused are absolutely awful.

    $1,200 million lost throughout the SE of the country (yes, this is a DOLLAR ammount!)
    $400 million lost in repairs to Inca ruins
    $236 million lost total in Cusco province
    $59 million lost in ruined bridges
    $42 million lost in damaged highways
    $37 million lost in ruined houses
    $28 million lost in damaged schools and health centers
    $18 million lost in irrigation systems
    $9 million lost in flooded fields

    Some 37,973 people lost their homes and most of their worldly possessions as a result of the floods.

    The tourism sector, Peru's main source of capital, has been severely damaged by the rains. 17,000 workers in tourism (guides, hotel workers, etc.) have been forced to be take vacations because they have no place to work and no tourists to work with. This comprises 70% of the entire workforce.

    According to official sources, some 7,684 passengers arrived in Cusco during the beginning of January, whereas, during these first days of February, only some 3,337 have arrived. Machu Picchu will be closed for 8 weeks for repairs.

    In 2 weeks, two ways to Machu Picchu will be reopened (once repairs are finished). Currently, the only way to arrive to Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes is by walking or by helicopter. They must take into account while clearing the alternate routes that rains in Cusco province will be continuing for the next two months as well. The main bridge to Pisac should be replaced with a temporary, longer bridge within 2 weeks. This will be reinforced during the dry season.

    More information from El Comercio Perú: