18 months after magnitude-8 earthquake, only one school rebuilt in Pisco

Of the province of Pisco’s 50 public schools – partially damaged or destroyed by the magnitude-8 earthquake that ravaged Peru’s southern coast on Aug. 15, 2007, only one has been rebuilt and has reopened on time for classes set to begin in early March, reported daily El Comercio on Wednesday.

“With the excuse that reconstruction would be immediate, the Education Ministry did not transfer the $17,500 destined to our school last year,” said a local school director, Manuel Gutiérrez Chipana. “Now, 18 months after the earthquake, almost 3,000 students will continue to study in pre-fabricated classroom modules and two classrooms declared as uninhabitable by Peru’s Civil Defense Institute.”

“Parents have preferred to keep their children at home precisely because the Education Ministry has forgotten to begin reconstructing our school, which has planted sticks and plastic sheets to establish its perimeter.”

Although pre-fabricated classroom modules have been delivered to the area by the Peruvian government and by organizations such as Oxfam International – allowing students in primary, secondary, and adult education programs to attend class in three shifts: morning, afternoon, and evening – there continues to be widespread fear for the safety of children attending damaged schools, and many parents say they would prefer their children miss an entire year than be injured or killed in an unsafe building.

When it hit, the magnitude-8 earthquake lasted more than two minutes, leaving Peru’s southern coast in ruins, cutting off electricity, water and communications. According to official figures, some 40,000 homes were destroyed.

Last August, hundreds of angry residents carrying pots, pans, whistles and cardboard caskets took to the streets in Pisco, Chincha and Ica, to protest Peru president Alan García’s slow reconstruction efforts.

In Pisco, where some families still live in tents and hundreds more in one-room shacks pieced together with particle board, sticks and plastic sheets, 2,500 protesters, including residents, community and school groups as well as labor unions, gathered in the city’s central plaza to demand faster access to aid and a step-up in the reconstruction of city infrastructure. Shops and markets closed down for the day, daily El Comercio reported.

Today, despite millions of dollars in emergency aid and the help of hundreds of local and international volunteers, construction of permanent housing has yet to begin and García’s administration has been dogged by constant delays and widespread accusations of mismanagement, profiteering and corruption.

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