ASUNCION – The cresting of the Paraguay River is driving out of their homes the most vulnerable inhabitants of Asuncion, rural immigrants who for decades have been settling on the banks of the city’s often dry riverbeds in search of a better life in the capital.
Los Bañados (Swamplands), as the atomized neighborhoods of fragile houses in the lower levels of the capital are called, have been growing constantly for many years and are subject to frequent flooding during the rainy season.
On such occasions the inhabitants are often left without water or electricity and have no way to get to work, but the situation now is the worst in almost 20 years, according to Maria Eloida Mareco, 71, who came here to live some 30 years ago.
She spoke of “my beautiful home” and of the “many years of work it cost us,” adding that “we came from the countryside, Capiata... my husband has work, I sell things here in my house, it’s my kiosk, but now there’s nobody to sell to,” Mareco told Efe.
Mareco complained in front of a truck of the SEN emergency services agency, currently serving the flooded Cateura neighborhood, because no one has helped her move her belongings and now flood waters are pouring into her patio.
Authorities told her they won’t be able to lend her a hand until Wednesday, she said.
“Nothing like this has been seen since ‘96, but I was younger then and could move my things. Now I have kidney disease,” Mareco said.
She has no choice but to move – like 40,000 other people – to one of the improvised refugee camps that are all over the city.
The floods have now affected some 129,000 people throughout Paraguay and the number is expected to rise, according to the SEN.
The SEN estimates that the Paraguay River will rise by as much as another 8 centimeters (3 inches) over the coming week in Asuncion, which will displace another 15,000 families.
Over the past 10 years, some 900,000 people have had to leave the countryside and move into poor dwellings in the capital due to the expansion of the vast corn and soybean plantations, highly mechanized and with little need for field hands, according to the National Farmworkers Federation, which is campaigning for agrarian reform.