ASUNCION (Paraguay) • The brutal human cost of El Nino is plain to see in Paraguay's capital. Downtown plazas and the median strips of thoroughfares are crammed with temporary houses made of plywood, plastic sheets and corrugated steel, thrown together after heavy rains caused the worst flooding in more than three decades.
Seated one evening outside the shack she is calling home for now, Ms Esther Falcon, 32, who runs a kiosk in a slum along the Paraguay River, said she had never experienced rains like those in December. "The water came so quickly," she said, adding that her home flooded up to shoulder height. The water has receded, but her young family cannot return because the rains, which forecasters say would return next month, are expected to cause the swollen river to surge.
About 145,000 people were forced out of their homes across Paraguay, a nation of 6.5 million, Mr Joaquin Roa, the minister for national emergencies, said. About 60,000 people are still displaced in Asuncion, he added.
Despite the risk of further flooding, some people have returned home, tired of living in the squalor of encampments, where families share portable toilets provided by the government and a United States aid agency, use buckets to shower, cook on portable charcoal stoves, and survive on infrequent handouts of rice, pasta and beans.
Paraguay is historically susceptible to floods, and since mid-2014, Asuncion has had unusually regular bouts of heavy rainfall, displacing thousands of families. Still, the most recent storms fuelled by El Nino were the worst, swelling the Paraguay River to its highest level since 1983.
In Santa Ana, Ms Teresa Castro, 51, returned home after two months in one of the estimated 140 encampments that the authorities say have cropped up in Asuncion, in addition to five government shelters on military grounds. Outside her house, canoes floated on stagnant water; inside, the floods had flaked away walls and destroyed head-high plug sockets.
"I have to start from zero," she said. "We wanted to come home, if only to rest for a month", referring to the fact that she may have to leave again when the rains come in a few weeks.
NEW YORK TIMES