How coronavirus is affecting Peru
8 January 2021
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 challenges are there to surviving lockdown and fighting coronavirus?
The total number of coronavirus in Peru has now surpassed a million. Peru has been in a national state of emergency since 15 March 2020, now extended until at least 31 January 2021. Day to day, this means a countrywide overnight curfew, and social and family gatherings are prohibited. Children have not been permitted to go outside for more than half an hour since March and cannot do so without adult supervision.
In Lima, major hospitals are once again in a state of near collapse. Reports state that this week Lima had only 16 ICU beds available for a population of 10 million. Along the coast, hospitals are full.
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 are 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 have the challenges evolved over the past year?
A post-Christmas increase in cases and a renewed fear of infection mean that many children – who have been out of school since December 2019 – are losing hope of returning to the classroom in March, after the summer holidays have ended.
Moreover informal unemployment, which was already at 70 per cent pre-pandemic, has risen to at least 80 per cent. This means that millions of people do not have job security and cannot access help, so are forced to make impossible choices: top up their phones so their children can access education or pay for food to feed their families.
In Peru, just 30 per cent of the population has stable internet access and during the pandemic, this has meant many families have struggled to access educational resources. Local organisation Warmi Huasi, who CAFOD supports, has been providing education materials.
One mother explained:
“As a mother, during this emergency of COVID-19, everything has become difficult. The entire education system has changed, and virtual classes have affected mothers and fathers a lot. For me personally, it became very difficult as we did not have the internet, just one mobile phone that I used mostly for work. I have five children. How were they meant to access classes or teachers without the internet or a phone?
“Other mothers and I all form part of the ‘Homework Club’. It has been supporting us a lot. We can now contact the teacher who helps us with any questions we may have. We ask him for support with any subject that we don’t know about, and he gives us that help.”
Education is not the only issue facing young people in Peru. During the pandemic, cases of domestic violence have been increasing. Warmi Huasi has been facilitating discussions to help raise awareness of the issues.
“One of the issues [we’ve discussed] is that of violence, who to call and what to do,” explained one participant. “We’ve also talked about the quarantine, the pandemic, everything that is happening to us, and how to deal with it all.”
Another teenager explained how these discussions and social networks have been vital:
“It is very important to talk about violence because there are many women who, out of fear, do not report it. In our homes with the stress that parents have, children can suffer violence in the family or with others, and that also affects their rights.”
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.
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.
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 are the ongoing challenges in Peru?
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.
"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