ASUNCION. –When WFP staff visited the Recalde family in the community of La Madrina back in June, they were desperate for food. “Everything is gone,” said Francisco Recalde, 57 years old, “I have no job and we lost our crops, we have no beans, cassava, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. We urgently need food”. At that time, his 13-month-old daughter Daisy was suffering from acute malnutrition and also had a respiratory infection.
The situation of Francisco, his wife Dominga (37-years-old) and his other six children was representative of other families in this area. They are used to cope with prolonged droughts, but not with torrential rains, excessive water, mud, humidity and mosquitos. And a cold front from the South Pole (signaling the start of winter in South America) made their living conditions harsher.
Request for Help
The Government of Paraguay requested WFP—which has no offices in the country—to provide food assistance to 25,000 people affected by floods in El Chaco, mostly indigenous and peasant communities who lived on subsistence farming. WFP launched an emergency operation and, in coordination with the National Emergency Secretariat or SEN (in Spanish), began the distribution of food rations—made up of wheat flour, beans, vegetable oil, rice and salt—in communities located in the departments of Alto Paraguay, Boquerón and Presidente Hayes. Due to the fact that WFP bought food locally and at lower prices, the number of people assisted could be increased to 40,000.
As promised, the Recalde family received a food ration in early July. During a recent visit to the Recaldes, they said their situation has improved and they are recovering. Francisco moved their house to a new location in the community and the family feels safer. Francisco was not home the day we visited because in that same day he found a temporary job as laborer in a local hacienda.
Dominga was at home taking care of the children, especially Daisy who now is healthy. “We thank WFP for this food,” said Dominga. “Now we can eat two meals a day, lunch and dinner, before we could not.” She wants to prepare a home garden so she can start planting sweet potatoes and beans for the family’s diet. She asked when the next food rations will be delivered to the community of La Madrina.
Julio Verdún, a Field Monitor from Bolivia, said that another food distribution is taking place soon in La Madrina. “The situation for this family has improved. The humidity and mud are gone, and they also have food,”, he said. “The fact that Francisco found a new job is a sign that his family and also the community is beginning to recover.”
More than 100 communities were reached by air, land and river by the SEN and WFP, which are located some 700 kilometres from the capital city of Asuncion. The latest food distributions reached communities in Machete Vaina and Castilla, near the border with Brazil, by a Paraguayan Army helicopter “The Dragons”.
Although the situation of the Recalde family has improved, it is not the case for other families. The emergency conditions remain in some parts of El Chaco region –which covers 60% of the Paraguayan territory. The arrival of winter, persistent rains, lack of river beds and the inability of the ground to absorb water is maintaining harsh conditions for some families who live dispersed in El Chaco.
A New Emergency Operation
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that the affected families will start the next harvest and recover the traditional income sources in January 2013. On the other hand, the Ministry of Agriculture forecasted intense rainfalls will begin in October 2012, and will last until March 2013.
A mission of the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) visited the floods-affected area to assess the situation of the Paraguayan families. The mission recommended a response to the urgent needs and a prolonged food assistance given the impact of the floods on the household food and income sources.
For this reason, WFP is preparing a new Emergency Operation which will provide food assistance to 50,000 people, mostly women and children, until early December 2012. The idea is to provide food assistance to the families until they have fully recovered during the next harvest in January 2013.
More resources will be needed to assure food assistance until the next harvest. WFP will appeal to donors to assure adequate food consumption and early recovery actions for this population. These new food distributions will allow Francisco and his wife Dominga and other families in the community to concentrate on planting crops and recover other livelihoods instead of thinking where their next meal will come from or how to get it.