How coronavirus is affecting Peru
24 August 2020
A country vulnerable to climate change, Peru has long struggled with poverty, gender inequality, and violence.
Now, Peru is struggling to cope with coronavirus. With the second highest number of cases in Latin America, the hospitals and health system are in a state of collapse, and the economic outlook is bleak.
What was the situation in Peru before coronavirus hit?
Peru is the second most vulnerable country to climate change in the world. The country is reliant on its glaciers to provide water for drinking, raising crops, livestock and generating energy. However, these are disappearing at an alarming rate. Peru also faces natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
With the expansion of the mining industry over the past 30 years, environmental and social damage has been widespread, leading to water pollution and significant health problems among local communities. Those who speak out against the negative effects of the extractive industry and campaign to protect their environment and defend their human rights often face threats, attacks and, in some cases, death.
Before the crisis, over 20% of Peru’s population were living in poverty. The lack of job opportunities in rural areas has encouraged many people to move to the outskirts of Peru’s cities in search of a better life, where they often live in cramped and extremely basic conditions. Women, and particularly indigenous women, often have fewer educational and economic opportunities compared with men, and their jobs are often low-paid and insecure.
How has the government responded to coronavirus?
Very early on into the pandemic, Peru imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, recognising that it needed to limit infection levels due to an extremely weak and inadequate healthcare system. Five months since the lockdown started, children are still not allowed to leave their homes for more than half an hour a day and all schooling has moved online.
Despite this, there has been no levelling off: the number of cases and deaths continues to climb. Insufficient resources have been put into the healthcare system, and the government has not done enough to protect healthcare workers. Many have died. Hospitals around the country are overwhelmed, and doctors and nurses have demanded more and better equipment to treat coronavirus patients.
What challenges are there to surviving lockdown and fighting coronavirus?
Those who live in poverty or are unemployed have suffered the most. Overcrowded homes provide a breeding ground for the virus. Staying at home is impossible for those who need to go out to work each day to put food on the table. Most people buy their food from local crowded markets where physical distancing is almost impossible. Many people don’t have clean water to wash their hands.
The number of infections amongst miners has been high, with the government failing to ensure that safety measures and protocols be adequately implemented to protect miners and their communities.
Indigenous people living in the Peruvian Amazon are also very vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus. Remote indigenous communities often live far away from hospitals and often lack the resistance to diseases that other populations have. Miners, but also others, including government officials who have failed to observe health precautions, have brought the virus to these communities. This has had a devastating impact.
How has CAFOD responded to coronavirus in Peru?
CAFOD is working closely with local partners on the ground to reach those affected by the virus, prioritising people living in poverty, those in isolation, and those who are unemployed.
With your help, we are supporting local organisations to:
- Provide food and financial support to families and Venezuelan migrants who are particularly vulnerable.
- Use community kitchens to prepare free food that people can collect.
- Purchase medicines for those that are sick and without income.
- Provide training to local partners on safe distribution of food and hygiene kits.
- Distribute hygiene and PPE kits including facemasks, hand sanitiser and cleaning products.
- Provide correct information in local languages about coronavirus, through leaflets, radio programmes and social media.
- Provide psychological support to families and children to deal with stress.
- Provide educational support to children who are unable to access online education.
What gives you hope?
"Peru has survived disasters in the past. New heroes have emerged. Overworked doctors, nurses, police, army, and street cleaners are applauded every night.
"Today the sun shines, the birds sing, nature has a wonderful respite. The River Rimac - once declared in the top ten dirtiest rivers in the world - is crystal clear, free from mining waste."
Father Peter Hughes, a missionary priest and a longstanding partner and friend of CAFOD
Now, five months into the crisis, the question remains: how can we keep this hope alive?