Res­i­dents of Peru­vian ‘Venice of the Jun­gle’ live half-year on the wa­ter

The China Post - - LIFE -

Res­i­dents of the Peru­vian Ama­zon com­mu­nity nick­named “Venice of the Jun­gle” live half the year on the wa­ter, with ca­noes re­plac­ing mo­tor­cy­cle taxis as the most popular form of trans­port. Teenagers swim in the same ar­eas where they played soc­cer dur­ing the other six months of the year.

From Jan­uary to June, wa­ter over­flows from a river that feeds the Ama­zon, flood­ing the north­east­ern jun­gle com­mu­nity of Belen, which is part of the city of Iquitos, dras­ti­cally chang­ing life for its es­ti­mated 16,000 in­hab­i­tants. Wa­ter is ev­ery­where, mak­ing it pos­si­ble to fish from in­side some houses through a hole in the floor.

This “Ama­zo­nian Venice” draws tourists, who ar­rive in boats dur­ing the wa­tery sea­son. But the com­mu­nity is a lot less pic­turesque for the peo­ple who live there.

So their homes don’t flood when the Rio Itaya spills over its banks, peo­ple build them three me­ters above ground, sus­tained by stilts of wood col­lected from the jun­gle.

Moth­ers keep a close eye on tod­dlers just learn­ing how to walk to en­sure they don’t fall in the wa­ter; the lo­cal press re­ports one or two child drown­ings each year. School-aged chil­dren are fer­ried to class in small boats.

The com­mu­nity is af­flicted by var­i­ous ills. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial statis­tics, 40 per- cent of the chil­dren in Belen suf­fer from mal­nu­tri­tion and 66 per­cent of the en­tire pop­u­la­tion is poor. Peru’s Health Min­istry says in­hab­i­tants com­monly suf­fer from re­s­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses, as well as di­ar­rheic sick­nesses caused by peo­ple and an­i­mals defe­cat­ing too close to the river.

Many in­hab­i­tants work in a mar­ket in a nearby area that never floods, sell­ing shad and other fish they catch in the river.

Life here changes from July to De­cem- ber, when the Itaya river re­treats to its low­est level. Sum­mer heat spreads across the zone, the streets dry out and the junk that had floated on the wa­ter forms trash heaps that at­tract rats.

The gov­ern­ment has of­fered to spend US$58 mil­lion to re­lo­cate the com­mu­nity to a piece of land 20 kilo­me­ters (12 miles) away. While about half of the res­i­dents sup­port the idea, the rest say the pro­posed area is too far away from the mar­ket where they work.

AP

(Above) In this April 20 photo, stu­dents ar­rive by boat to the San Fran­cisco school in Belen, an Ama­zon com­mu­nity nick­named “Venice of the Jun­gle,” in Peru.

(Left) In this April 19, photo, chil­dren play in the flooded streets of the Belen neigh­bor­hood in Iquitos, Peru.

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