During the weekend of March 17th to March 19th, a record setting El Niño delivered “10 times more rainfall” than a typical rainy season to Peru, causing massive floods and landslides. The storm devastated over half the country, hitting Northern Piura region particularly hard, and overwhelming the sewage system of multiple northern and western cities. The devastation forced 800 towns and cities to declare states of emergencies, killed at least 72 people, and pushed over 70,000 people into homelessness. The flood has devastated a variety of critical infrastructure, destroying over 100 bridges, damaging over 115,000 homes, and shutting down roads. Cities such as Nuevo Chimbote have also lost access to their water, power and transit systems. Food and water scarcity have created shortages, with prices rising 5% on average over the last week.

River Surging (Wikimedia Commons)

The Peruvian government has called in the armed forces in order to supplement the police in an effort to restore order. The Education Minister, Marilú Martens stated that the government had allocated 800m Peruvian soles (roughly $246 million) to provide to the devastated areas in Northern Peru. The health ministry is focusing on fumigating pools of water in order to eliminate mosquitoes and stymie the spread of diseases such as dengue or malaria.

El Niño storms occur as a result of a warming of ocean temperatures; although the heavy rains have paused, these types of storms are likely to continue through at least April. El Niño storms in Peru can usually be predicted because they tend to be foreshadowed by flooding and droughts around the world; however, this year’s “coastal El Niño” arose out of local conditions, causing it to appear more suddenly, and limiting opportunities to prepare. Peruvian General Jorge Chavez commented on the need for a more resilient Peru, stating “We need more and better bridges, we need highways and cities with drainage systems. We can’t count on nature being predictable.” 1988 marked the last similar El Niño disaster in Peru, which resulted in over 374 deaths.

Sources and Further Reading:

  1. Abnormal El Niño in Peru unleashes deadly downpours; more flooding seen – Reuters
  2. Floods and mudslides kill dozens in Peru – BBC
  3. Death toll rises to 72 in Peru rains, flooding, mudslides – Fox News
  4. Peru floods kill 67 and spark criticism of country’s climate change preparedness – The Guardian
  5. Peru braces for more flooding after at least 72 deaths – CBC