LOS ANGELES -- Finally, more than four years since an 8.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the colonial port city of Pisco, Peru, refugees living in the nuevo pueblo that was born in the wake of the disaster are seeing the construction of central water and power.
Bureaucratic mangling over this 23-acre stretch of desert and the denounced mismanagement of international aid that flooded the country after the disaster has left an estimated 1,500 families in Alto El Molino in squalid living conditions.
"Look at how we have been living," says Andrss Gamero Mallma, 77. He points to a shack covered in tarp and says, "the majority live like this. What kind of security can you have like that?"
Gamero Mallma and his wife have lived in El Molino since the home they rented in Barrio la Alameda, Pisco was destroyed in the August 15, 2007, earthquake.
"Nobody came walking, everyone was running," says Farren Chirinos Simon, 45. "We came here because of the fear of a tsunami. There was a great need for housing and people didn’t have anywhere to live." Chirinos Simon lost family members and everything she owned in the quake. "We didn’t even have a cup or a plate. Everything was buried."
More than 500 people perished in the quake.
[El Molino] "is not the result of a plan to relocate people. It was improvised. Authorities did not direct them there," said Hector Chavez Saavedra, author of "The Pisco Earthquake: History of Pain and Hope," to The Huffington Post.
Over 6,000 residents have etched out an impromptu urban sprawl in the outskirts of Pisco fifteen minutes away, where many continue to work, buy their groceries, and send their children to school. Walking along the main road towards the center of this community, an oval roundabout where a main square is set to be built, signs of progress are beginning to show. Utility poles are being installed, and steep trenches and mounds of dirt weave around bungalows waiting for sewer pipes.
"Compared to how we were last year, we are doing much better," says Jaqueline Pilar Limaylla Gutierrez, a longtime El Molino resident. "The [new] government has done a lot in only half a year, with Ollanta."
Too little, too late
In August, newly elected President Ollanta Humala stopped by El Molino as his first act as head of state. In front of crowds, he placed the first rock towards promised urban construction and "less talk and more action," saying, "We have only been in government for fifteen days, but we have come to tell you that re-building Pisco is a priority."
And according to Salomon Lerner Ghitis, the country's Prime Minister, government housing programs will give priority to the region.
But for the past four years, despite the unfulfilled government promises, residents of this refugee district have made do and go on with their lives with the few resources available to them. Homes made of grass mats, plastic sheeting and tarp initially meant to serve as temporary shelter have become permanently organized along makeshift streets.
Among the residents I spoke with, hardly any could contain their frustration at the slowness of Pisco's re-construction efforts.
"The light and water that we use," says Gamero Mallma, "we paid to install that. With our own money. That hasn't been installed by the city council . And only now the government is installing [light and water]."
For years, Milagro Varverde, 25, has drawn her water from a communal spout that she and ten other families built at the end of their street. Some days the sink runs dry. And wooden utility poles contracted by a private electric company line her barrio.
Varverde was only recently able to replace the bamboo-woven shelter she shared with her husband, brother and two children with a wooden structure. She lost her home and all of her belongings on Calle Pedemonte, Pisco to the earthquake.
Asked if she received any aid prior, she said, "The only thing was a fabric tent. I know that a lot of countries have given aid, but almost nothing arrived here."
The Cuban Medical Brigades in Tupac Amaru Inca
One source of aid still available to Pisco and the other districts most affected by the quake are the medical services provided by Cuban doctors who first arrived in Pisco only days after the disaster struck.
But instead of staying in Pisco, they almost left to Chincha province, according to Tomas Andia Crisostomo, Mayor of Tupac Amaru Inca. "The Cuban doctors were [in Pisco] for a year working in tents, and no one paid them any attention. So, we brought them here." With the help of the government of Spain, Andía’s district coordinated the reconstruction of the health center where the Cuban doctors continue to provide low-cost medical services.
"What happened in Pisco and in other places is that mayors didn't want help in re-building. What they wanted was money," explains Andia. "But not us. Unfortunately, corruption is an issue."
Rene Cornejo Diaz, the Minister of Housing, Construction and Sanitation conceded in December 2011 that the government organization responsible for managing donations, the Reconstruction Fund for the Southern Areas (FORSUR), would be eliminated, saying, "Clearly something is not functioning correctly and what is obvious is the issue of corruption," and "we will have a more effective focus on the work that needs to be done...in order that each minister is responsible of the task they are meant to carry out."
Following the quake, the United States donated over $3 million dollars in humanitarian funding.
Community in El Molino
Like many residents of El Molino, Gamero Mallma has become a vocal community advocate who has lobbied for formal recognition of the area to local and national government in order to receive services. He is the secretary for his local association, one of twelve associations that have been organized to address community issues in El Molino.
Soledad Rodriguez, 33, one of El Molino's first inhabitants, attributes improvements in living conditions to the community activism of residents.
Rodriguez has lived with her husband and five children in El Molino since the earthquake destroyed her home. She runs a vending shop by the main square.
Asked what she would like the government to do, she said, "What can they do? Nothing has changed."
TAKE A LOOK AT SOME EFFECTS OF THE PISCO EARTHQUAKE OF 2007: