Nature and Biodiversity

How is Peru preparing for unpredictable floods?

Linda Freiner
Group Corporate Responsibility Manager, Zurich Insurance Group
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Nature and Biodiversity?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Fresh Water is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Fresh Water

Zurich’s flood resilience program in Peru is working to address problems unlike those in most other countries. This is due in part to the unpredictable nature of the El Niño phenomenon and the floods its rains can cause. During recent visits to communities in Peru, we learned about a number challenges the program faces there and how it is addressing them.

Preparing for unpredictable floods

We were struck by lack of flood preparation when we visited places where our flood resilience program is being carried out in Peru’s Piura region in the north, and the Rimac river basin near Lima. This reluctance can be explained in part by the unpredictable El Niño phenomenon. When it occurs, it may bring rain that can cause severe floods. But several years can pass with no floods. This seemingly random flood risk makes it harder to motivate communities to increase flood resilience efforts. For example, El Niño brought rains that caused severe flooding in 1982-1983 and again in 1998. But since then, droughts and extreme heat, not floods, have been the main worry for these communities. El Niño is bound to bring floods again. How well the communities cope will depend on what they can do in the interim. Many obstacles must be overcome, as we saw during visits to these communities in December 2014.

Urban poverty lowers resilience

Besides the unpredictable nature of the floods, even though most of these communities are located in a very urban environment, many are just informal settlements with no official status. As a result, they can’t access public water, sanitation, electricity and other amenities. Housing, too, is very basic. These communities are also battling high rates of crime and drug abuse, and many people lack access to healthcare facilities. They are also home to a number of single mothers who often support many children, and struggle to find steady employment.
Yet we noticed some bright spots, too. Despite hardships, the women are sharp and keep in close touch with each other. Given the right tools and organizational training, we see opportunities for active participation in community programs to make the most of what they have and so build resilience.

Lack of trust needs to be addressed

One important factor determining the success of our efforts is being able to work closely with local authorities, including mayors and civil defense organizations, and in turn, how well they can mobilize student ‘brigades’ from local colleges. But while government support for mitigating disaster risks has increased, applying for funds can often be a very complicated process, made more difficult by frequent administrative staff turnover and the fact that contact points constantly change.
The real challenge, though, is people’s lack of confidence in the ability of social organizations and elected representatives to lead or manage disaster risk planning. People also feel the agencies that are supposed to provide them with assistance are too distant from them to understand the issues.

Tackling the challenges – our approach

During September 2014 we completed initial risk mapping and baseline studies in selected communities, obtaining information that will enable us to evaluate how to raise awareness and motivate action. The next phase involves finding solutions. Lack of drainage systems and houses that have been built in what used to be drainage areas pose
a major problem. “People have built houses where the former drainage used to pass. That drainage system saved our lives in the 1982 El Niño floods,“ one resident told us. Especially worrisome is a school for young children built with a foreign donation that was constructed without proper risk assessments, situated on a drainage system.
Besides addressing such concerns, we will evaluate existing early warning systems to see how they can be improved. And we will also look for ways to motivate communities to work together to find some solutions before the next flood strikes.

People have built houses where the former drainage used to pass. That drainage system saved our lives in the 1982 El Niño floods.

This article is published in collaboration with Zurich. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

To keep up with the Agenda subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Author: Linda Freiner is a Group Corporate Responsibility Manager at Zurich Insurance Group.

Image: Men recover planks of wood from a flooded sawmill at the district of Maynas, in Peru’s Amazon city of Iquitos. REUTERS/Musuk Nolte.   

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

What is the UN's Summit of the Future in 2024 and why is it important?

Kate Whiting

July 23, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum