From Peru to Pompey: Climate Change is Closer Than You Think

Lily Anderson-Neyra, a former Portsmouth resident and co-founder of Portsmouth Climate Action Network, reports on the impact of climate change in her birth country of Peru, and asks Pompey to help those affected. Additional reporting by Sarah Cheverton.

This story begins in 1980 when, as a 20 year old, I moved from Peru, my birth country, to Portsmouth to be with my British (now ex-) husband. I took with me my wonderful baby son and my most precious books. Subsequently in England I gave birth to my lovely daughter.

As a student at the former Portsmouth Polytechnic, I became aware of something called ‘Climate Change’ around 1985. The subject was discussed among some of the students as a process that came from the industrial revolution. I remember having a dream about our planet talking to me about the sadistic, sick treatment we were giving it and how much it was suffering as a result.

In 2006, I co-founded Portsmouth Climate Action Network (PCAN). We started by organising activities to raise awareness about climate change. Vested interests had started playing with the truth in the late 70’s, discrediting the notion that a climate change process was taking place. So many were dismissive of the possibility that humans could have a hand in their own eventual destruction. Not many knew much about it and some joked that ‘if England gets warmer they would not have to go away on holidays to other countries’.

Indeed. Now, the Brits and other northern europeans are staying away from many of their usual destinations because of the ’terror threat’. Many commentators are beginning to make links between war, climate change and terrorism.

I returned to live in Peru a couple of years ago, but as I write, we are witnessing the effects of climate change.

On Wednesday 15th March, Trujillo, the city where I live, saw the beginning of torrential rain and mud slides lasting for a week. This city – located in the desert strip of the northern coast by the Pacific Ocean – used to be nicknamed ‘The City of the Eternal Spring’. Now it is inundated with water, as you can see in this video I took only a couple of weeks ago.

Peru, a country five times larger than the United Kingdom, is in a declared state of emergency due to flash flooding, mud slides and rain. Other parts of the country have been suffering these conditions for weeks, and several Amazon rivers are on red alert status. Peru is very rich in natural resources but – though it might seem strange alongside the current flooding – parts of the country are struggling with the risk of running out of water. A recent study by the University of East Anglia anticipates Peru will soon be the third-worst affected country by climate change.

There is a another factor that needs to be taken into account when considering the impact of climate change in Peru: namely the lack of funding for a cogent preventative plan to deal with extreme weather. Instead, most of the funding goes to emergency response. Peru urgently needs a disaster prevention policy. There are several initiatives by pressure groups to contribute towards setting up an efficient and real policy to help the country face climate change. However, Peru urgently needs to develop ways to better conserve and utilise our water supply and to this end the state needs to commit to invest in scientific research, and to ensure stronger accountability for how such funding is spent.

If there was ever money to do this, there isn’t now.

Corruption is rife in Peru and money disappears easily. As a result, the public is vigilant of local authorities when aid is being delivered, in the hope of preventing it ending up in the wrong hands. Organisations such as the Red Cross Peru seem to be the most reliable.

Recent reports state the floods have left 106 people dead and 364 wounded, while the number of people forced to abandon their homes has reached 156,400.

As you read this from Portsmouth, it may seem that climate change is someone else’s problem, something happening on the other side of the world to you.

But climate change is everybody’s problem, everywhere on the planet.

Before the floods started in Peru, we saw sea temperatures on the northern coast rise in some places up to 9 degrees F. The fish that would normally swim in these waters have gone to deeper, colder waters to survive. Sadly, this means the sea birds, sea lions and other wildlife that would normally feed on these fish are dying, quite literally, in front of our eyes. There is little we can do to help.

Before the flood, many people in Peru didn’t want to talk about climate change. I noticed the same phenomenon in Portsmouth when I lived there, and more broadly across the UK. In both our countries, this silence makes it easy for our governments to do nothing, and as a result ordinary people have no opportunity to prepare until the very worst happens.

News of climate change seems to send people into denial, burying their heads in the sand and hoping it won’t happen to them. Tragically, it doesn’t work that way.

In the UK, the government has identified an increased risk from heavy rain and flooding, and regards this as a key climate threat. In my old hometown, where you’re probably sat reading this right now, Portsmouth City Council has been undertaking research on extreme weather events since 2000, concluding on its website that:

…future climate change is likely to result in…extreme weather, such as buildings damaged in floods, storms and high winds leading to costly repairs and buildings temporarily closed, or roads melting from hot weather.

The local authority states it owns commitment to tackling climate change as part of its Climate Change strategy.

I may be writing from the other side of the world, but our hometowns may have more in common than you think.

Why do you think your leaders – in the city and the wider region – are so worried about flood defences they’re prepared to pay £105 million for them in a period of Conservative ideological austerity?

If you’ve ever experienced flooding yourself, lost your home or someone you love in circumstances that were beyond your control, or if you just want to help – you can show your solidarity with the people of Peru by donating to one of the campaigns below.

Main image: Photo courtesy of Socios En Salud, via Global Giving Foundation.

Take Action

Donate to projects in Peru helping people deal with the devastating impact of the floods, via Global Giving

Donate directly to Ayuda en Acción, who are working on the ground in Peru (Donations in Peruvian Soles only)

Support the International Red Cross, working to help people deal with the floods via the Peruvian Red Cross

Get involved with Portsmouth Climate Action Network

Find out more about Portsmouth City Council’s work to address climate change in the Climate Change Strategy