Towards the end of 2015, Paraguay experienced the worst flooding in 50 years as a result of the El Niño climate phenomenon. Heavy rains that began in late November 2015 spurred widespread flooding of the Paraguay and the Parana rivers.
On December 12, 2015, the Paraguayan Government’s National Emergency Secretariat (SEN) declared a state of emergency in the capital city of Asunción. By December 30th, 150,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes and the situation in Paraguay became officially declared as a disaster.
The flooding of the Paraguay River (which flows by Asunción) was so severe that many homes were almost completely submerged by flood waters. About 90,000 people had to seek temporary shelter in parks, public spaces, schools and military buildings across Asunción.
Even after the rains had abided in January 2016, more than 65,000 people remained displaced, approximately 41,000 of which remained in the temporary shelters of Asunción. The floods in Asunción caused at least six deaths and damaged houses, schools, roads, various other infrastructure and agricultural land throughout the regions of central and western Paraguay.
What is El Niño?
The El Niño weather phenomenon is part of what is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, and is the scientific term that describes the fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and the atmosphere.
El Niño is the “warm phase” of ENSO, when sea surface temperatures in the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific rise periodically. This ocean-atmospheric climate interaction along with a weakening of easterly trade winds creates conditions of increased rainfall and flooding in South America as well as Australia and Indonesia. El Niño episodes occur every few years usually around December and typically last between nine and twelve months.
The El Niño episode at the end of 2015 and the resulting climate extremes were the worst in more than 15 years, according to the United Nations weather agency.
Recovering from the Floods
In response to the disaster declaration, the United States’ Agency for International Development’s Office for Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) provided $50,000 of humanitarian aid to Paraguay, directly to its Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) for the local procurement and distribution of emergency relief commodities of hygiene kits, mattresses and shelter supplies. USAID/OFDA provided an additional $600,000 of humanitarian aid to ADRA to expand emergency relief commodities and services, including the implementation of water, sanitation and hygiene programs in areas affected by the floods.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has also provided about $1 million to approximately 6,000 families in the wake of the disaster; however, humanitarian aid to Paraguay has taken forms other than cash assistance. The WFP has furthermore worked to strengthen local and national governments’ capacities for emergency preparedness and response through European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) trainings, simulation exercises and logistics management trainings.
Improving Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience
One project in particular, implemented by the WFP and the UNDP, is the Disaster Preparedness Program (DIPECHO) Action Plan 2015-2016, which aimed to “build response capacities at the local, community, authorities and public institution levels to face disasters more efficiently in the world’s riskiest regions.”
The plan also aimed to strengthen the SEN’s logistical capabilities to improve agreed protocols for civic-military cooperation for emergency responses.
In the Chaco Central Paraguayo region, didactic material has been developed to integrate disaster risk management strategies with the culture, customs and livelihoods of indigenous populations that are most effected by natural disasters and threats. This approach resulted in a more effective method of articulating disaster risk reduction customized to indigenous culture and customs.
Since the country is particularly prone to seasonal flooding and droughts and hosts an economy heavily dependent on agricultural products, the disaster risk reduction programs like DIPECHO are essential forms of humanitarian aid to Paraguay that will help the country’s overall recovery in the wake of future extreme climate events.
– Sydney Lacey