I can still remember many years ago, the first natural disaster I experienced. I was very young and Peru was playing the World Cup soccer game. It was a Sunday afternoon when suddenly everything started shaking uncontrollably, it was the big 1970 earthquake magnitude 7.9 epicenter in Huaraz where about eighty thousand people died due to massive landslides and where an entire town basically got wiped off the map. Since then, I recall many other experiences, like when I resided in California and there was the 1989 San Francisco earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9, killing about 67 people and causing a lot of structural damages like the collapsing of the Golden Gate Bridge. Years later I was living in South Florida in 1992 and a category 5 hurricane, named Andrew showed its ugly face. I considered this storm to be the most frightening experience I have ever lived through. It was considered one of the worst hurricanes in history causing over 25 billion dollars in damages and taking the lives of 65 people. But I think the costliest one was hurricane Katrina in 2005 that hit the coastlines of New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico with property damages worth over 108 billion. Also, I remember one of my famous road trips driving across the US from East Coast to the West Coast going through the so-called Tornado Alley in Oklahoma and living through an F4 tornado and heading towards the entire path of destruction that it caused. So as you can see…
I am no stranger to natural disasters at all. And now living in Peru and watching the devastation of the mudslides and catastrophic floods brings back a flood of memories of past experiences.
An interesting fact I found out is how our ancestors, the Inca Empire dealt with these types of natural events that have been going on for centuries. Well, first of all, it seemed that the Incas understood their terrain. Many archaeologists have attributed the special trapezoidal character of Inca architecture to precautions against earthquakes. Even back in those days, city planning, and zoning and vulnerable zone prevention programs seemed to had taken place. So I wonder if this time HAVE WE ALL LEARNED OUR LESSON?
Natural disasters are not predictable in most cases but with a culture of preventive measures, I think we can minimize the loss of lives and property damage. It is beyond my comprehension why people were allowed to populate areas that were or have been in nature’s natural path, to begin with. What did we think was going to happen? Homes and businesses built in the middle of vulnerable and dangerous zones. The coastline of Peru from Tumbes to Tacna is basically deserted terrain. The building of dams and dikes to re-direct this natural flow of water for irrigation for our deserted areas and human consumption purposes should have been a priority to take care of years ago. The way other countries deal with natural disasters and their prevention programs and how they educate and train their population is something to definitely keep in mind for the near future. Many examples to cite such as the very effective way of responding to major disasters in Chile, Japan or how people in the so-called Tornado Alley react to these type of events and minimize the loss of lives.
In times like these, the JFK speech comes to mind, IT’S NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU, IT’S WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY. This is a powerful message I think all Peruvians need to embrace. It cannot be all about always expecting the government to solve our problems; I don’t mean to be heartless but every victim one sees on the news keeps asking the same thing. Where is President Kuczynski? Where is the help we need? Where are the authorities? And to be honest with you I understand these being times of desperation for a lot of people. But we cannot turn into a society of just gimme! We as a society also need to take responsibility for our actions and decisions. From my perspective, the government is overwhelmed and performing well under the circumstances.
Unfortunately, as we can see, thinking about rebuilding now is still a little too soon since we continue to be affected by the mudslides and climate conditions known as the coastal niño. As far as rebuilding is concerned, I have seen how other countries have done it. The idea is to do it better, to learn from it. To not fall into the same mediocre pattern of improvisation and lack of prevention. Let this become a lesson well learned and have something positive come from it. Let’s build some modern cities and structures that won’t be collapsing in a few years. The president said ‘œWe have the money to rebuild’ we just lack high caliber professionals who can do the job right. Maybe it’s time to think about bringing some real professionals from abroad here then.