ICA, Peru (BP)–Thousands of people left homeless and hungry by a massive earthquake in Peru’s desolate southern desert are being helped, thanks to the generosity of Southern Baptists who give to their World Hunger Fund.
At least 519 people were killed and 60,000 homes were destroyed when a quake that registered 8.0 on the Richter scale struck Peru’s central coast Aug. 15. The shock wave leveled most of the buildings in the port city of Pisco, where many structures were built of unreinforced adobe brick.
“The towns of Ica, Pisco, Chincha, Canate were heavily damaged and many smaller communities were totally destroyed,” said Jim Brown, U.S. director for Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international development and relief organization. “The highway from Lima was damaged to the extent that large trucks with relief supplies can’t get through. The government had to send the first relief supplies in by air.”
Villagers will have a hard time recovering from the earthquake because clearing debris means their crops must go untended, said Wayne Brinkley, a Southern Baptist ministry partner working with disaster relief efforts in the area.
“I was in a community yesterday and asked what they plan on doing concerning rebuilding,” Brinkley said. “Their houses are completely destroyed and they are living in thatched housing or shelters made of scrap plastic and cardboard. They replied that the men are in the fields all day long and don’t have time to clean the debris. They need help with debris removal before they can even begin to rebuild their homes.”
The unusually strong quake generated international publicity and tons of relief supplies poured into Peru. Much of it, however, reportedly wound up on sale in local markets, while many smaller communities have received little or no assistance, Brinkley said.
That makes private relief efforts in those communities more critical, said Brown, who traveled to the affected area to assess the needs. He made the trip with South Carolina Baptist Convention disaster relief director Cliff Satterwhite, who is coordinating the Southern Baptist earthquake relief effort in Peru because of his state’s existing relationship with Baptists there.
“We know other groups have been providing relief in certain areas, but it appears that in Ica only Baptists and local Salvation Army volunteers are working,” Brown said. “One of our ministry partners, Proteccion Cristiana Civil, also sent in an assessment team, looking for areas aid isn’t reaching.”
Christian response to the disaster was amazing, Brown said.
“Peruvian Baptists and other Christian workers immediately jumped in with both feet to respond,” he said. “Volunteers traveled four hours from Lima to get to the scene, and Pepe Flores, the president of Peruvian Baptist Convention, personally traveled to the area, with a partner from British Baptist Mission, to see how churches could help.
“The president’s visit greatly encouraged the believers in Ica. They have seen a steady stream of volunteers coming to help. It was exciting to see people who care connecting with people in need.”
The initial assessment team carried in blankets, food staples, water, plastic sheeting and hygiene kits purchased with a $50,000 emergency allocation from Southern Baptist relief funds. An allocation of $33,726 from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund jump started community kitchens in 50 communities -– cooking operations run by the residents themselves. Food kits of rice, lentils, noodles and oil sent by Southern Baptists are being supplemented locally with potatoes and chicken or fish -– enough to feed 5,000 people for up to two months. Each community food kit provided 500 meals at a cost of $113. A special emphasis also was being made to be sure children receive a nourishing oatmeal breakfast.
Another $15,000 in relief funds also was allocated to help launch medical projects in the area. Assessment teams discovered that a variety of respiratory, skin and digestive disorders were appearing after the quake. As many as 5,000 people are expected to be helped by volunteer medical teams sent to the area.
Other dimensions of the multifaceted response include:
-– Women and children. Newborn babies and pregnant mothers will be assisted by the distribution of kits containing vitamins, diapers, baby bottles and other items.
-– Water projects. Several communities have no or very limited water supplies, to the extent that community kitchens were having trouble preparing meals. Water tanks will be purchased to help communities conserve scarce water and send water trucks to villages at a cost of $18 for each run. Bottles of chlorine bleach have been distributed to help purify local water.
-– Community centers. Local relief efforts need a base of operations, but few communities have an appropriate site since the quake. Relief funds will help erect shelters made with bamboo poles and woven thatch walls, at a cost of about $100 each. South Carolina Baptist volunteers committed to providing 10 of these shelters.
-– Church reconstruction. The church building in Ica being used as the distribution center for relief efforts in the area was severely damaged during the earthquake, yet members have been instrumental in delivering relief supplies and leading ministry efforts. Relief workers believe the congregation’s demonstration of commitment merits assistance in rebuilding their facility.
Residents of the communities being helped have responded to the assistance with requests for Bible studies, Brinkley reported.
“In one community, seven Bible studies were conducted but three requests couldn’t be filled for lack of leaders,” he said. “A call went out for help and 14 Bible studies were conducted the next week. Two churches in Lima have actually adopted areas where relief work is going on.”
More than 20,000 people have been helped through the efforts, Brinkley said, but the need remains great.
While some communities have been able to move toward self-sufficiency, many still need assistance with food, shelter and medical needs, he said. People are living in improvised thatched shelters in a desert environment where the temperatures drop very sharply at night. While plastic sheeting and blankets provide some help, the only long-term solution will be rebuilding homes.
Mark Kelly is a freelance writer based in Gallatin, Tenn.