Paraguay – 13,000 Families Affected by Floods in Asunción as River Levels Top 7 Metres

Levels of the Paraguay River in Asunción are now well above 7 metres and are expected to rise further.

Parts of Asunción have been experiencing flooding since November. By mid December levels of the Paraguay River had already reached 6.5 metres, the highest of the year at the time. Around 6,000 families had been affected in the first weeks of December. Since then river levels have jumped to over 7 metres and the numbers affected have doubled.

According to Paraguay’s National Emergency Secretariat (SEN) around 13,000 families are now affected by flooding, most of them from the poor Los Bañados areas of the city, located close to the river. Local media reports say that over 50,000 people have been displaced by the floods. Emergency services have set up around 100 temporary camps to house the displaced.

The worsening flood situation in the capital has increased tensions in affected communities. Earlier today, police were required at SEN headquarters after protesters burned fires and threw stones. Many of the protesters are thought to be residents of flooded areas who feel the government is not doing enough to alleviate their suffering.

Protests outside SEN headquarters. Photo: SEN
Protests outside SEN headquarters. Photo: SEN

The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), say that the main needs of evacuated families are related to food, safe access to water and sanitation, non-food items, primary health care and prevention of diseases carried by mosquitoes, such as dengue and the zika virus, which is thought to be spreading across parts of the Americas.

Paraguay’s Ministry of Health said yesterday that it has intensified medical assistance to affected citizens, both those already in shelters and for those that remain in their homes despite the rising waters. Six medical units have been specially set up and have so far treated around 500 patients.

The President, Horacio Cartes, and Joaquín Roa, the minister responsible Paraguay’s National Emergency Secretariat (SEN), flew over some of the affected areas in Asunción today in order to assess the situation.

President observes flooded asreas in Asuncion. Photo: Office of the President, Paraguay
President Horacio Cartes observes flooded areas in Asunción. Photo: Office of the President, Paraguay

Levels of the Paraguay River, Asunción

According to the latest reports from Paraguay’s Administración Nacional de Navegación y Puertos, the Paraguay River at Asunción now stands at 7.20 metres. Levels rose by 13 cm between 16 and 18 December 2015. Levels stood at around 3 metres during late October 2015, which is roughly where levels would normally expected to be during December.

Minster Joaquín Roa said in an interview with a local radio station earlier today that authorities expect levels to reach 7.50 metres.

Image: Paraguay's Administración Nacional de Navegación y Puertos
Image: Paraguay’s Administración Nacional de Navegación y Puertos

Environmental Threat

In July 2014, levels of the Paraguay River reached over 7 metres, displacing thousands and threatening to inundate a toxic dump close to the river.

On 16 December 2015, Paraguay’s Environment Secretariat (SEAM) declared a state of environmental contingency in Paraguay. Municipalities across the country are required to submit to SEAM their emergency programs and environmental contingency plans for dealing with the management of waste in the face flooding of the Paraguay River and other tributaries.

Concepción Department

Flooding has affected elsewhere in the country, in particular the department of Concepción where communities in Paso Barreto, Yby Ya’u, San Carlos del Apa, Concepción and Horqueta have been completely cut off, according to SEN.

Food and relief supplies including tents have been shipped in by SEN teams, and Minster Joaquín Roa visited the area on 17 December 2015. SEN have also provided boats for relief operations.

Boats and relief supplies for communities cut off by floods in Concepion department. Photo: SEN
Boats and relief supplies for communities cut off by floods in Concepción department. Photo: SEN

Levels of the Paraguay river at Concepción currently stand at 6.92 metres, almost 3 metres above levels at the start of November and 4 metres above levels expected for December.

Image:
Image: Administración Nacional de Navegación y Puertos

Rainfall Levels

According to reports from Paraguay’s Dirección de Meteorología e Hidrología, torrential rainfall in the Paraguay River’s catchment areas in Paraguay as well as neighbouring countries have been occurring on a regular basis as a consequence of this year’s stronger El Niño.

Further heavy rain is expected over the coming days. Dirección de Meteorología e Hidrología warned of thunderstorms and heavy rain of up to 100 mm over the coming days.

In an announcement made today, Joaquín Roa suggested that the flooding problem is unlikely to go away soon and warned of more heavy rain further down the line. He said that, in the next 15 days, more heavy rain is expected, especially in Concepción and San Pedro. Rainfall levels could be between 200 to 300 mm and are likely to have a further impact on the level of the River Paraguay.

Flooding Rain Forecast for Uruguay

Also in South America, Uruguay’s Institute of Meteorology (INUMET) has issued an orange warning level high probability of occurrence of heavy rains and severe storms over the coming days.

Sistema Nacional de Emergencias (SINAE) say that there is a heightened risk of flooding from the overflowing Uruguay River in Artigas, Salto and Paysandú departments. Precautionary evacuations have already been carried out in Paysandú as a result of the flood threat.