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Peru earthquake: for Afro-descendants, the slow road to recovery

20 December 2007

MRG’s Cecile Clerc reports on the impact of Peru’s devastating earthquake on one minority community.

It’s not until you approach the village of El Carmen that you are reminded of the earthquake which hit the country three months earlier. Lima was hardly affected by what was a real disaster in other parts of the country. The “Panamerica Sur”, the highway which links the capital to the southern provinces and was largely destroyed, has since been rebuilt.

Families living in tents

And then suddenly, you start seeing them, the little tents which were distributed by the international aid agencies immediately after the earthquake. Green, purple, cream … they add touches of colours to a landscape which otherwise would look very desolate. Around us, lots of houses are still destroyed. Gravel and stones are blocking streets and the church, the pillar of the community, has not been reopened. Entire families still live in tents, often installed in the garden of what used to be their house. They have managed to save some pieces of furniture, clothes, pots & pans and are trying to recreate a home.

‘It was like the sea under our feet’

While visiting El Carmen, cradle of the Afro-descendant community in Peru, we spoke with Sari, a mother and grand-mother who was in the village when the earthquake happened.

“We were just getting ready for dinner when it started. There was this terrible noise and then the earth starting to move. It was like the sea was under our feet, we could feel waves! We rushed outside. And everything started to fall apart. The walls, the lamp posts…You could hear people, especially children crying and screaming “ I don’t want to die mummy”. When it stopped after some time, all the neighbours gathered in the street. We were so shocked.”

That night, people stayed together in the streets and refused to go back to their house, for fear it could happen again. They worried for members of family and friends who were not in the village at the time. As all communications had been cut, they were unable to find out what had happened to them.

‘Everything started to fall apart. The walls, the lamp posts…You could hear people, especially children crying and screaming “I don’t want to die mummy””

Sari’s family was actually safe as were many of the other families from the village. El Carmen was still too far from the epicentre to be badly affected. But in other villages, many people died or got badly injured.

The Afro-descendant community of El Carmen stayed in the streets for 3 days before the international aid reached the village. It rained most of the time and without any protection, people suffered awfully.

Not an aid priority

There is a strong feeling among the villagers that they were not been given priority because of their ethnic origin. They also strongly criticized the national government for not offering more long-term support towards the reconstruction of the village.

Things are improving in El Carmen but positive changes are mainly due to the solidarity within the community. It’s a slow process but when you talk to people there you realize that hope has not disappeared and that they are all working hard towards getting back to a normal life.


Cécile Clerc

Director of Development and Partnerships

Minority Rights Group