ASUNCION – People have begun to gather in front of the Paraguayan Congress building in downtown Asuncion to escape the flooding caused by the Paraguay River, which has already displaced some 35,000 people from their homes in the capital.
The stately facade of Congress, the suits and ties of the government officials and the coming and going of official vehicles now contrasts with the precarious shacks of wood and scrap sheet-metal that about 100 displaced people have begun erecting in the green areas surrounding the building.
This is a new settlement being used over the past week by some of the people who have lost their homes to the river’s rise.
Most of the displaced people, however, are already being housed in shelters set up by the government.
The river has been rising for the past week and now has reached the level of 7 meters (23 feet).
The people who are camping out in front of Congress come from the neighborhood known as La Chacarita, one of the city’s poorest where each year the rising river floods and drives people from their homes.
“Our house is under water. All the houses are flooded and we were going to lose everything we have. The neighborhood is completely flooded and people are building (shelters) where they can. It’s the third time this has happened in a little over a year,” Osmar Zarate Lopez, 17, told EFE as he was building a small house with his father.
A few meters downriver from this settlement dozens of families have lived in precarious shacks since in 2014 the river level reached 7 meters and drove some 85,000 people from their homes.
“Each day, the water rises more and people unfortunately have to keep climbing,” Estevan Gutierrez, 51, who has been living in a rickety shack since last June, told EFE.
“Some returned to their hometowns and had to come back. Unfortunately, Congress is against us and that doesn’t help much,” he added.
The neighborhoods most affected by the current flooding are Asuncion’s poorest, extending out from the riverbank and home to almost a quarter of city’s population of more than 513,000.
Of the total number of people who have lost their homes, some 25,000 were evacuated after the river began rising a week ago, while the rest were displaced by similar flooding in 2014, according to official figures.
Neighborhood associations say that since the flooding began there have been no legislative initiatives to provide urgent assistance to the displaced people or to seek a permanent solution to this periodic crisis.