Widespread Flooding Brings Misery to Bolivia River Towns

March 27, 2014

After months of unrelenting rain, homes and farmland remain submerged in many areas of Bolivia´s Beni region. The government declared the region a disaster area in January.

Edir Martinez has come to expect the river near his northern Bolivia town of San Joaquin to overflow its banks during the rainy season. It´s a low-lying area anyhow, and minor flooding is a common occurrence.

But this time the rain just won´t quit. The precipitation began in October, but did not become a major concern until January and February when torrential rain and landslides swept away homes and lives.

When the swollen river threatened to overtake San Joaquin, Edir joined his neighbors in stacking a buffer of sandbags to protect their community of 5,000 people. That February night he returned to his home, where his wife, Sofia, and two children anxiously waited for him.

At 3 a.m. they were awakened by shouts that the river had broken through the makeshift dam, and residents must flee to the highest section of town immediately.

Using a flashlight to guide them through the darkness, Edir escorted his elderly father through the rising water and up to the town square. He raced back to the house to fetch his wife and children.

“You cannot imagine the chaos that night. Everyone was looking for their relatives and people were crying and trying to find somewhere to go as the rain kept falling,” said Edir. “In two hours the water had invaded the town. It was surprising to see how quickly our houses were washing away.”

More than 150 towns and villages have been affected by the flooding.

Shelter in the storm

In Bolivia´s Beni region, some of the worst flooding in years has engulfed communities along the Mamore and Beni rivers and their tributaries. At least 60 people have been killed and more than 60,000 homes damaged or destroyed. Crops are ruined and an estimated 100,000 cattle have drowned.

Christian Aid Mission is assisting Serving Jesus Christ (SJC) ministry in Bolivia to help meet the urgent needs. The ministry is focusing its relief work in the towns of San Joaquin and San Ramon, where 1,100 families have been affected.

Edir and his family lost everything in the deluge—their belongings, house, farm animals, and food supply, but they are grateful to God for sparing their lives. Like other displaced residents, they spent the night at the town square, praying for help to arrive.

With no road access into San Joaquin, SJC responded by sending a small plane to drop off emergency supplies to flood victims. Edir received items such as rice, sugar, noodles, and bottled water. Other distributions followed, and health care workers administered medicine to ward off sickness from mosquitoes and contaminated water.

Three gospel workers with SJC are among the residents who lost their homes in the flooding.

Christian Aid is helping a Bolivian ministry deliver emergency aid to isolated villages.

As part of its mission, SJC takes an integrated approach to ministry that includes meeting both the physical and spiritual needs of individuals. The flood response is a practical way to demonstrate Christ´s love to the hurting.

Under more normal weather conditions the ministry runs two boats that are used to transport gospel workers to riverside communities. The missionaries conduct evangelistic crusades and Bible training, reaching isolated people groups who have had little exposure to the gospel.

Over the years Christian Aid has helped SJC through missionary support and by supplying funds for fuel and upkeep of the river boats. More recently Christian Aid donors provided Bibles and discipleship materials for village churches, and they sent funds for the ministry´s after-school program for children in the town of Trinidad.

As more financial support becomes available, SJC would like to bring encouragement and comfort to additional flooded communities. In the village of Sachojere, 90 families lost their mud and thatch dwellings. Their crops of rice, yucca, and plantains were also wiped out.

Mauricio, his wife, and their four children are living with other families in a classroom in the village school. With so much uncertainty about their future, he is contemplating leaving Sachojere and starting over in another town where he can find work.

“Our town looks like a war has happened,” said Mauricio. “Almost everything is under water and has been destroyed. There is no road, no houses, and no crops.”

“We are praying the Lord will help us rebuild our houses and restore our community,” he said.

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