By Maria Isabel Rivera
(c) GAMLP Bolivia
More than 4,000 people, including a community of older people, have lost their homes after heavy rains caused huge landslides in La Paz, Bolivia.
Hundreds of homes collapsed on Saturday 26 February after continuous rains soaked the land, prompting a massive mudslide.
Eight areas of the city have been affected. So far, more than 800 houses have collapsed and this figure continues to rise. Residents have lost almost all of their belongings.
HelpAge International is working with the Counselling Centre and Emergency Municipal Council (COEM) and the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies in Bolivia (CBHA) to provide emergency relief to older people affected by the disaster.
(c) GAMLP Bolivia The Pampahasi headquarters of the Awichas community of older people, a Helpage partner, was also damaged. The older residents were evacuated to a safe shelter on Sunday, but many have been traumatised by the disaster.
"We are working on providing security for the Awichas (which means grandparents in Aymara). We're getting older people who have lost their homes registered, so they can get immediate assistance," explained Mercedes Zerda, Social worker and coordinator of the community house in urban La Paz.
"We have lived here for so many years and this has never happened. Now we are very sad. We have no homes. We have no place to go to. I would like to ask for help. We need food, blankets, mattresses and housing," said an anguished Don Juan Quispe, 84.
Red alert and response for older people
A red alert has been declared by the municipal authority. HelpAge is getting ready with its emergency response.
We will deliver 300 blankets, 2,000 incontinence pants, toilet paper, buckets of water, walking sticks and other special supplies and provisions for older people who have been affected.
Kizito Chiwala, HelpAge regional emergency advisor says: "We are coordinating the transfer of older people to temporary shelters and mobile homes. We are also ensuring the distribution of healthcare and food in Pampahasi and other affected areas."
"It's a tragedy that has had a major impact on older people. Many have lost everything. Some older people had to move their belongings on their shoulders to the shelters in the middle of the disaster," explained Rolando Jitton, Director of HelpAge Bolivia.
He also called on the general public to support those affected during these difficult times in La Paz.
Rains causing chaos throughout Bolivia
(c) GAMLP Bolivia The extreme weather this rainy season is not limited to the city of La Paz. Other regions in Bolivia are also affected.
More than 4,000 have been left homeless after a river burst its banks in the tropical region of Cochabamba, and in Rio Abajo hundreds of hectares of vegetable crops were swept away by the force of the water.
Floods are destroying entire communities in the tropical region of Cochabamba and Beni. Homes, property and equipment have been damaged.
HelpAge, through the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies in Bolivia, is looking at providing assistance in other emergency zones throughout the country.
Despite the magnitude of the disaster, described as one of the greatest in recent years, there are thought to be no casualties. This is thanks to the timely intervention of municipal authorities and coordinated action and communication among neighbours.