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In Peru, recovery from quake lags

Two years later, the effects are still acutely felt. Observers point to problems with disaster planning, aid distribution, and global attention.

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Displaced communities set up encampments on vacant land without toilets or running water. Containers of aid rotted in the port. Babies fell into open sewage holes.

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The mayor, Juan Mendoza Uribe, who lost his sister in the quake, said the system wasn't equipped to handle a disaster of such magnitude. "The people want to crucify me," he says. "But what can I do? I can't do more."

Poor predisaster planning is a common problem worldwide, says Michael Delaney, director of humanitarian response for Oxfam America. Yet a dollar invested up front saves $47 during a disaster, he says.

A few years ago, Oxfam tracked hurricanes crossing the Caribbean: The storms killed a few hundred people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They next hit Cuba, where maybe two died, then moved to Central America, claiming hundreds more lives.

The difference between Cuba and the other countries, Mr. Delaney says, is planning: Every year, Cuba shuts down for a day and requires residents to run through a hurricane simulation drill.

Some issues, including figuring out who owns what land, can take years, says Bob Laprade, tsunami recovery program director for the American Red Cross. In Banda Aceh, where the 2004 tsunami struck, offices storing land titles were destroyed, Mr. Laprade says. In Pisco, such titles often never existed – most people lived in adobe houses that had been in their families for generations.

Ideally, disasters provide opportunities to address underlying poverty and inequality, says Anthony Oliver-Smith, a professor emeritus at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Impoverished people could be relocated to safer land or their houses rebuilt to better withstand disasters.

"The problem is," Mr. Oliver-Smith said, "it's very often an opportunity that we don't take advantage of."

Earlier this summer, Pisco's mayor stood on the steps of the crumbling local university. About 100 people gathered to voice concerns.

One woman spoke about the rise in crime since the quake. Others complained that assistance had been unfair. A man in a wheelchair wept. "I have nothing, and no one has ever given me anything," he said.

The mayor promised him some building materials. The microphone crackled. There was a smattering of applause.