Protecting the rights of people affected by disasters | María del Carmen Sacasa

05 May 2017

 In addition to saving lives, the response to the flooding in Peru must seek to promote the active participation of people affected by the disaster. Photo: Mónica Suárez Galindo/UNDP Peru

In the past few weeks we have witnessed the devastating consequences of intense rains and landslides in Peru, affecting thousands of people. In counterpoint to the tragedy, the situation has also presented a unique opportunity to bring the country together.

In the best-case scenario, Peruvians can demonstrate to the world that it is possible to emerge from difficulty through solidarity. This means uniting different levels of government, politicians, civil society, people of all ages and the international community behind a common purpose: helping people recover.

Humanitarian assistance should be timely and reliable to prevent loss of life. We know that disasters increase existing gaps and vulnerabilities. An estimated 700,000 could join the ranks of the poor because of the coastal El Niño phenomenon, according to research from the Lima Chamber of Commerce.

In light of this, it is important to uphold the rights of all people who are affected by disasters. We must guarantee that people have a dignified life, ensuring their safety and security and the recovery of their livelihoods. Children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and older adults need special and immediate attention. We also have to keep in mind that the aftermath of a disaster exacerbates the risk of violence. Psycho-social support is fundamental for those who have been displaced.

Traveling around the country, we found that it is essential that our work strengthen the exercise of citizenship and active participation of people affected by the disaster. This is true both during the humanitarian assistance process and throughout the recovery process, to ensure that it is sustainable and to prevent the resurgence of risky conditions in the future.

In this emergency, national and international mechanisms have been activated to complement government efforts. We deployed a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team, which, together with sector specialists, analyzed and assessed the situation in the communities of the five most affected regions of the country, with the objective of providing a rapid and comprehensive response, centring our work on the people.

UNDP deployed a group of specialists at the outset of the emergency to support the national government and regional and local governments in organizing and implementing early relief efforts to aid those who were most vulnerable.

On the ground, UNDP is starting to implement, in coordination with Peru’s Ministry of Labour, a pilot jobs-in-emergencies project to remove contaminated sludge in one of the hardest hit areas of the Piura region. This will facilitate the safe return of residents who are currently housed in temporary shelters and reduce health and environmental risks.

In the medium term, UNDP will be providing technical assistance to subnational governments, prioritizing economic recovery for those most affected.

As always, our main mandate is to contribute to the sustainable human development of the countries. To achieve that, we have to make managing risk a top priority and work with national authorities in disaster situations like the recent flooding.

By providing support to affected populations and complementing the state response, we can respond to the needs for early recovery and rebuild livelihoods without "rebuilding the risks" as the Peruvian Government has articulated.

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