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Children navigating the Amazon in Peru. (Photo: Mary Shipman, My Shot)

Red Alert: Flooding in the Peruvian Amazon

Though writer Robert Earle Howells adds greater fuel to our wanderlust fires with his round-up of five Peruvian jungle lodges in National Geographic Traveler’s new issue, now’s unfortunately not the time to visit the Amazon Basin. Super-floods continue to inundate the region — a situation that has been underreported in the English-language U.S. media so far — putting the communities there at risk. Experts speculate that a perfect storm of long summer rains in the Andes combined with greater-than-normal glacial melt has caused the flooding.

The Amazon has reached record breadth, width, and height this rainy season. According to Peru’s Health Ministry, the river has grown at least 6.5 feet during the floods, with the Marañón River, which feeds the Amazon, increasing some 13 feet. Neither river has swelled this much since the 1970s, when a similar flood affected the area. Peruvian newspaper El Comercio reported Health Minister Alberto Tejada’s alarm at the situation: “In 1971 [the flood] did not have an urban impact because today’s human settlements did not exist.”

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Many homes in Tamshiyacu Village are almost completely submerged. (Photo courtesy Dolly Beaver, Amazonia Expeditions)

A state of emergency has been declared in the regional capital of Iquitos, and narrow wooden bridges have been constructed to help residents get around. Some 80,000 people have been forced to inhabit only the upper levels of their homes while others have been left homeless by the flooding. The San Juan de Yanayacu Indian community has also been hard-hit; the small group — more than half of whom are children — has been living on rooftops, in canoes, or on makeshift tree platforms. Along the Tahuayo River the small farms of the approximately 7,000 people living in small agrarian villages there have been washed away and most people’s homes have been flooded.

Nonprofits, including Angels of the Amazon and Project Amazonas, a non-partisan NGO working to serve the people of the Amazon and conserve the rainforest, are collecting clean drinking water and supplies to help alleviate the crisis. In the meantime, concerns about sanitation, the spread of dengue and malaria, and access to sufficient food due to flooded crops reverberate throughout the Loreto region.

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The flooding has greatly impacted local Indian communities, including the Lastenia family of Chino Village on the Tahuayo River. (Photo courtesy Dolly Beaver, Amazonia Expeditions)

Davarian Hall of the Amazon Refuge Wildlife Conservation Center said help is on its way this week: the Peruvian government airlifted 17 tons of food to Iquitos, the UN sent representatives to the area, and the U.S. has agreed to fund emergency shelters. Even so, once the flooding stops, it could take up to six months before the millions of affected acres are drained of excess water. Locals hope they can begin rebuilding projects as early as June, but travelers should check with their outfitters before booking a trip to the area.

To learn more about the lodges that have been affected by the flooding, read The Jungle Rooms,”The Jungle Rooms,”The Jungle Rooms,” a story that appears in the May issue of Traveler. If you’d like to help, please consider making a contribution to Project Amazonas to help fund their life-saving work on the ground.