Wednesday 20 September 2017

Families in 'slums' have no electricity or sanitation - and face deadly floods

The river flood plain at the Esquipulas bordo. Photo: Frank McGrath
The river flood plain at the Esquipulas bordo. Photo: Frank McGrath
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Only the poorest of the poor live in the bordos, or slums, of San Pedro Sula, the second city of Honduras.

In one, Esquipulas, houses are built of scrap metal and corrugated iron, and risk being washed away when the nearby river floods. There is no sanitation, so human effluent is discharged directly to water. There are no schools, or government services. Electricity connections are illegal, increasing fire risk, and some 1,200 people live in squalor.

Brenda Ramos (18) with her six-week old baby Dominga, and Erica Roxana Ramos (18) with her son Axel (10 months) in the Esquipulas bordo. Photo: Frank McGrath
Brenda Ramos (18) with her six-week old baby Dominga, and Erica Roxana Ramos (18) with her son Axel (10 months) in the Esquipulas bordo. Photo: Frank McGrath

But everyone needs a home, and in a country where half the population lives on less than €5 a day, people do the best they can.

Maria Fermina Reyes Corea (48) is a community leader who has lived in the bordo for 26 years. She sometimes struggles to find the 50 Lempira (€2) monthly fee to pay for her children's schooling.

"I have eight children and the school is about half-an-hour away," she says. "The main problem is having a job to get the monthly fee for school. Sometimes you have the money to buy the notebooks, and sometimes you don't. If you don't pay, you don't get the certificate (graduate)."

Irish aid agency Trócaire is working with a local group, CASM, on a project which focuses on emergency preparedness for when the river which runs through the community, the Rio Bermejo, floods.

Eighteen year old Anna Riviera pictured at her home in the Esquipulas Bordo Photo: Frank McGrath
Eighteen year old Anna Riviera pictured at her home in the Esquipulas Bordo Photo: Frank McGrath

The aim is to get people to high ground, and quickly. The last serious flood was in 2012. The water rises quickly due to deforestation in the mountains, where the absence of trees means that rainwater cannot be absorbed.

Flood waters scour away the earthen banks and wash away homes. Lives have been lost.

The community faces struggles on a daily basis. One young mother, Brenda Ramos (18), fears for her child's health, saying the pollution and bad smells can cause infections.

"The babies are affected by them," she says. "I am worried because sometimes we don't have the money for the doctor. We use herbal medicine if we have no money. If you have faith, it will work. Hopefully, if God wants, we will have a better place for our babies."

Daily life in the Esquipulas Bordo in San Pedro Sula in Honduras. Photo: Frank McGrath
26/2/17
Daily life in the Esquipulas Bordo in San Pedro Sula in Honduras. Photo: Frank McGrath 26/2/17

There are other issues too. Armed guards accompany deliveries of cornflour and other household staples to shops, to discourage robbery. Killings are not uncommon, and few are prosecuted.

Gangs control these bordos. When you enter, windows on vehicles must be fully rolled-down so spotters can assess if there is a risk.

And if you are over 40, finding a job is practically impossible. While some collect refuse from more affluent areas, many are unemployed.

"There are practically no opportunities. For people over 40 or 50, it's impossible to get a job. It's very sad," Raul Leiva (68) says.

“There are practically no opportunities. For people over 40 or 50, it’s impossible to get a job. It’s very sad,” Raul Leiva (68) says Photo: Frank McGrath
“There are practically no opportunities. For people over 40 or 50, it’s impossible to get a job. It’s very sad,” Raul Leiva (68) says Photo: Frank McGrath

"I can work in security or with my hands but last year I only worked for three months. My two sons have moved to other cities. We were in another bordo but a landslide took my house. It's so important to keep sane. Without faith, you would go to a psychiatric institution."

For those lucky enough to have a job, it can be taken away. In another bordo, Guadalupe, a member of the emergency committee says she lost her job after being involved in a workplace accident.

Maria Fuentes (48) worked as a cleaner in the airport for six years, and hurt her leg at work. It led to complications with diabetes, and the limb was amputated last October.

Despite being injured in the workplace, she was fired without any notice.

"Now my life is very different," she says. "My daughter is now in charge of the house.

"I used to be the one getting up in the morning and getting the food, but I cannot now. It has been very difficult.

"There is no social protection, you're on your own. My family and God have been my biggest support.

"I'm very disappointed with the government, especially because I was an activist with the National Party (ruling party). It's very difficult to live."

The fact is that these settlements shouldn't exist at all.

They began to emerge from the early 1970s, built on earthen banks up to 40-feet high, designed to protect the city from flooding. They are technically illegal, meaning that infrastructure cannot be provided.

City official Walter Pedroza says around 10pc of the city's population - around 24,000 families of between six and eight people - live in the city's 16 bordos, and they're growing by up to 4pc a year. Within 15 years, they are expected to double.

"The problem is the local government has no money (to relocate)," he says.

"We need a plan on what people will do after they are relocated, how will they make a living?

"We need to create opportunities for them."

Omar Garcia Castro (43), a co-ordinator on the local committee, says there are just three cases of people in Guadalupe who went to university, including his daughter.

"I would like a bigger chest to contain my pride," he says. "It's difficult to get a job outside the community.

"If we go for a job and say we're from a bordo, we're automatically excluded."

Irish Independent

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