Sunday, 11 November 2007

El VRAE - The Forgotten Valley of Peru

More coca is produced in the VRAE (River Apurímac and River Ene Valley) than anywhere else in Peru. Naturally, it has become an epicentre for cocaine production and is a regular drug trafficking route.

The entire valley has only one local police station and six policemen. The station is cut off from all communication given that the only telephone was disconnected 6 months ago due to unpaid bills.

54.27% of the valley's population is poor and 44.84% is extremely poor. 51% are suffering from chronic malnutrition.

80% of housing lacks potable water and 77% has no street lighting.

The life expectancy for women in the valley is 60 and 64 for men.

Of the 200,000 people living in the valley, only 10,000 (5%) have finished secondary school.

30% of the population as a whole and 49% of women in the valley is illiterate.

Anteccasa, one of the valley's typical towns, has no running water, electricity or medical service. There is only one primary school for the 40 children and the teacher hardly ever turns up. If the children want to study, they must walk more than 3 hours in order to reach the next school. The nearest secondary school is even further away; nobody in Anteccasa has ever been.

The medical centre in Pichari, another VRAE town, is falling to bits. Patients must queue for hours to register because notes are taken by hand. Even if there were a computer it wouldn't be of much use because the electricity cuts out on a regular basis, ruining the few bits of medical equipment the centre has managed to obtain. Vaccinations have to be put between blocks of ice until the electricity returns and the night team quite often works by candlelight. The centre's medical staff has to work around the clock because there are not enough of them for the number of patients. The situation is the same in 8 other medical centres throughout the VRAE and there is only one hospital for the entire valley.

In 2006, the Peruvian government initiated "Plan VRAE" - "an option of peace and development for the VRAE", yet there have been no great changes to the valley's education system, medical service and general standard of living so far. The VRAE police headquarters, opened by the Plan in December last year, has only one van - hardly even sufficient to patrol the edges of the 13,000 square kilometre valley. The Plan's budget has been increased for 2008, and after a recent terrorist attack in Ocobamba, the area has been re-declared a state of emergency. But this is not enough for the VRAE people. They need to see change now, not in two, three or four years time.

Last Monday, 5th November, I posted a report by Andres Oppenheimer, entitled, "Peru may be the next rising star in Latin America". Oppenheimer states, "Peru has a long way to go, especially when it comes to competing in the global economy...but people who are optimistic about Peru in the long run may be may indeed become a star economy in the not-so-distant future." This optimism may well be true for the country's economy in general; many parts of Peru are seeing steady progress and change. But the VRAE is by no means one of these parts; in the general air of development and success, the VRAE and other similar areas are all too easily forgotten.

Map courtesy of

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