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Framing The Rain
The coverage of 2017 El Niño event on FACTORTIERRA.NET was between reporting and teaching.

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By Nelson Peñaherrera Castillo

"The wind and the water destroyed all to us" (painting)
Provided by Arte para Todos.

The heavy rains period presented at Peruvian Northern, and particularily in Piura Region's Coast between January 2017 second fortnight and April 2017 first fortnight, took us unprepared. The official forecasts scheduled that for the previous Summer, that motivated a whole movement of the authorities for making prevention works inclusive, but the rains delayed twelve months, when everybody supposed the apparent drought  that had been reported since 2016 second half could enlarge  already beginning the next year.

As a collective experience, the periods of heavy rains in Piura mark generations: 1961, 1972, 1983, 1998. Almost statistically, each Piura habitant will experience a natural event catalogued as El Niño or such similar characterized somewhere in lifetime, or more than once in lifetime. In my particular case, three times adding 2017, although we had also very likely episodes in 1992, 2001, 2006 and 2008.

For FACTORTIERRA.NET, this is the second rains period deserving a special attention. The first one was in 2001.

In both cases, the idea of our website was not only following up and analyzing the facts but mainly educating our audience on their nature. In our coverage's philosophy, we think when we educate on the origin and history of the natural events we are exposed to, our response before, during, an after it happens uses to be better than whose have not ssearched this type of information.

This led us to learn that, in addition to rains and their consequences, other natural events deserving our attention are quakes and tsunamis, frosts, droughts (or hydric stress periods, as called), heavy blows, anomale tides, and all the consequences related to climate change and global warming in general, including erosive processes, pollution, and desertification.

The perspective of our coverages is the science. As a set of methodical procedures allowing to understand our reality objectively, we take its sightings as sources for generating our contents and serving them to our audience on our website, allied media, and our social media. we think the reliability we have to base upon the science will allow us to take best decisions for our individual and collective life.

And that is the reason why unlike other media, FACTORTIERRA.NET does not pursuit the first hand inmediacy but precision. And this value is not ever gotten with the first fact  but the contrast of many data those generate and compare each other and to the ones generated previously. This procedure takes some chronological time but it guarantees  that one our audience will receive could be taken as an untemporary reference allowing to increase knowledge and improving attitude.

Conditions of the sea in front of Piura Region in January 2017.
Graphic by NOAA, provided by IMARPE.

A virtual and on-the-field monitoring network
Based upon this big premise  is what the coverage of the 2017 heavy rains period began just where the anomaly uses to be reported for the first time: the sea. A day of beach during the Summer became the first field assignment inside our special following-up -many stories we produce almost ever are caught unschedully- when the water of Pacific Ocean in Colán Beach had an unusual behavior: it was more transparent than usual, less salthy than usual, warmer than usual, and it was evident  that the flow pattern was north-south instead of the usual south-north. [Read the story]

The scientific journalism uses to set up its coverages from the empiricism; it needs the scientific analysis to offer a consistent explanation to the audience but exposed like it can be understood by the most of people. Then, understanding and preventing an extraordinary rain period might happen, the slogan was explaining what could happen and why would happen. In a first time, we were not able to forecast more consequences than historically happened after previous rainy events, but ignoring the possible intensity, we preferred to trust in official data and forecasts as information sources.

Other preventtions taken by the crew were to establish two types of monitoring: virtual, and on-the-field.

The first one by checking out the meteorological data provided by AccuWeather, one of the firms on meteorological information  for media worldwide, reknown for its precision and experience.  Data on temperature, feeling, and weather conditions would give us clues for projecting possible anomale episodes, especially on the coastal low pressure zone from suyo District, at the north, to Upper Piura Valley, at the southeast.

AccuWeather gave us real-time data and forecasts for the locations of Suyo, Las Lomas, Tambogrande, Chulucanas, Morropón and Canchaque. Additionally, we had data  for Ayabaca, Huancabamba, Paita, Piura, Sechura, Sullana and Talara Cities, plus representative landmarks  from a geographical perspective, previous arbitrarian division of the Piura Region's territory into shores (Talara, Paita and Sechura Provinces), Coast (Sullana and Piura Provinces, and lowlands in ayabaca and Morropón Provinces) and Andes (highlands of Ayabaca, Huancabamba, and Morropón Provinces). The selected locations from the AccuWeather's offer were: Máncora, san Lucas de Colán, and Chulliyache on the shores; Lancones, Querecotillo, La Huaca, and Paimas on the coast; and Sapillica, Frías, Chalaco, Montero, Curilcas, Talaneo, and Huarmaca on the Andes. Likewise, we had monitoring the cities of Macará, Loja and Cariamanga  in ecuador, as they are in Catamayo Basin, the main tributary of Chira River  at the south of that nation.

A second decision was to activate a monitoring network on the field with our ccrews in Tambogrande and Chulucanas, which main task was  reporting just-started rains. This information was compplemented to the one that many people was giving us as volunteers on Facebook, once we proved they were true sources.

Finally, it was the coverage of other media. Then, mixing these three sources, we not only could warn the audience about a happening rain, but we could prevent te possible places it could move. We are using this strategy about eight years ago, and it worked to us in the most of cases. We add to this te own experience of FACTORTIERRA.NET about Piura Region's historical and geographical information management, what allowed us to extraofficially forecast  possible meteorological behaviors. Even, when we posted our forecasts, we warned the public they were not official.

Colán Beach, Piura, during January 2017, the day we discovered anomalies in the sea.
Photo by Arturo Peñaherrera.

Bearing the water and bad inttentions
When the first rains broke, we put all this methodology on. At this point, it is necessary to clarify that FACTORTIERRA.NET is a low-budget media, so at the technical level it had to trust  the existent communications private network was operative. In other words, the services of home and cellular telephone and the ADSL Internet network, especially,  were not shut down, which wework from our West sullana City headquarters and where we connect to the world. Another external aspect was to trust in the electric network of the region was not interrupted neither for supplying the headline services, updated each four hours, from 6:00 to 18:00 (Lima time), and extraordinarily everytime the news broke, and usually 30 minutes after it happened to avoid unnecessary alarms, ever itime it was opportune.

One of the most dramatic episodes was to report almost real-time Piura River's overload on March 27th, 2017, that provocated the flood of Tambogrande, Piura, Castilla, and Catacaos Cities and the whole Lower Piura Valley. We informed the fact almost since the beginning itself, when a heavy rain fell over Morropón and Buenos Aires Districts at the night of March 25th, and following down  the overflow during the 26th, adding the hourly reports of Operations Center for Regional emergency (COER as in Spanish)

At his point, something we learned after the March 3rd, 2017's rain, that affected Tambogrande City, was the Piura River ooverloaded just in San Lorenzo Valley. The discovery was not ours but it already had been warned by specialists since 1997 and proved during the 1998 event. We realized that while the data between Los ejidos Dam and Tambogrande were a 25%-30% difference, between Tambogrande and Chulucanas were around 100%. we also knew the Piura River's course within both segments was similar. Then, the logical answer was the tributaries between Chulucanas and Tambogrande gave huge loads to the river. [Read the story]

This led us to prevent  that 1400-cubic-meter-per-second score that Chulucanas was as maximum could duplicate approaching Tambogrande, especially when it has rained the night of 25th at highlands of Andean Western Range's occidental slope. That is why our news service by Facebook on 26th included a warning by our own risk for the people of Medium and Lower Piura Valleys to take caution. We also shared the alert notification released by the Regional Government of Piura, in the morning of March 26th.

As it was known, Tambogrande became to have 2900 cubic meters per second in the afternoon of 26th, and more than 3400 in Piura Metro Area the next day.

While our social media tried to cover the fact  as fast as can be possible to apply the protocol we had designed, we thought convenient to understand the lesson inside such that disgrace on our website. Initially, we wanted to explain chronologically what happened those 48 hours, but  emerged the question about why the fflood of Medium and Lower Piura was possible despite the lack of prevention. When we investigated, we found a series of historical mistakes going back beyond even this century. When we published the story, our intttention was not to excuse the actual administration but to warn it already had historically happened before, that happened that time, and that could happen  if critical aspects offered by the science were not considered, previously studied and warned by Piura's scientific community. [Read the story]

However, disasters were not natural only. The another battle front were social media because the period  was not only abundant in rains butfake news generating panic, so we incorporated the task of discarding or confirmming the versions from unaccurate to weird, as they were breaking specially on Facebook.

So, while some psychosocials creator  brought down Cáceres Bridge, at least three times, with other  colleagues we did the prodigy of rebuilding it within 15 minutes around. We've got to discard a rare phenomenom what Piura River was capable to generate anti-gravity and flowing up, not flowing down as Physics teaches. And with EEl Tiempo newspaper's Teo Zavala, we got to prove neither Mickey Mouse as a magician apprentice was capable to make the Limón de Porculla Dam's water to jump up towards Sechura Desert.

The fear efficiently ignited by the social media made us inclusive to explain ddozens of basic concepts as the origin of the bolt, the formation of the clouds, the hydric cycle of water, why it rains in Piura. In the end, it was a pretty grateful pedagogical exercise, because it allowed us to understand that if people trusted in us, our duty was to give them truth, as well as doing some relaxation therapy with many users. Inclusive, the reiki and energy therapies specialist, and journalist, Christian Palacios decided to have free sessions to the community to manage the stress caused by the rains, and the advertising was provided by our network.

As  a very personal note, I would add that the coverage of this event questionned me too much about the dimension of my own job, which I felt to invade the Education land not being specifically qualified for that. Maybe the journalism must consider the evolution of the concept, subject, and object of study and work, at least.  If we are dedicated to tell the story as it happens, perhaps it is not already enough. Perhaps, we have to incorporate many tools of Pedagogy and make them ours to serve better to the public in an age when the social media became similar or more authority than the digital media as we know them, inclusive. I must stress many colleagues working as journalists are very good teachers. Thus, maybe we are getting narrow  and even fusing to their object and subject of study and work more than any other job or profession  inside the Liberal Arts.

Rains radar installed at Ecuadorian Southern.
Photo provided by University of Piura.

Formative-Informative Crousade
Our coverage on El Niño event followed up the same storyline even after the rain period finished at all. Further the announcement of not allowing any re-settlement of the people at risky zones, we decided to investigate which ones effectively do not mean more danger for the people. The finding was disturbing: Geological, Miner and Metallurgic Institute, depending on the Ministry of energy and Mines, had made in 2008 a study in the 64 districts of Piura that time where it detailed one by one everything happened in 2017. Our inmediate question was if the authorities knew the existence of this document, and if affirmative, why it was not considered.  The second baffling finding was the Regional Government of Piura already ahd generally warned in 2005 about which zones of the region had vulneribility degrees.

We combined the data of both works, and we wrote a story which in a very simple way explaining all that information. For didactical effects, we identified four high-vulneribility zones in case of natural disasters: the whole Piura Valley, the coastal plateaus zone in Paita and Talara, Lower Chira Valley, and the whole Huancabamba Valley. we ask today how much useful the information of our specialists is when our authorities take decisions and the community claims. Is it really responsing a technical aspect or  giving up by the political pressure? [Read the story]

From the FACTORTIERRA.NET perspective, the science -whether we agree or don't- has the answers, so it is only enough  a wide criterion  and work in a strategic and planned way based upon it for preventing and saving lives. That is why we are committed to follow educating the not only local but national and international community with technical, scientific, and possible proposals those allow to give the re-habilitation, re-building, and re-planning process with greater criteria, greater fluency.

In post-truth times, when we believe the things are what we like but what they are objectivelly, the victory of myth over the fact sets up like a real threat to every field of knoledge and development in our community, a kind of involution of that knowledge to the levels it had during the Middle Age. And when the media  turn into efficient vehicles of that process, we are not contributing to solve problems but generating conflicts - we have no the last word, we allow the words to flow with order and claritty by ranking what it is said with the help of the other science's branches.

We believe that our editorial commitment is to open our space for the specialists with coherent technical proposals, unions, scholars, and the scientific community in general not to release what they consider is going to improve the life of the people and their environment only, but they begin to work with the journalism aside -or like our job in the social media age starts to name-  for seeking creative ways  that information to impact in a favorable manner on the people. As I said up before, more than a pure informative effort, it will be a big pedagogical crousade. But if something  we have understood in our work the last years is it will never be possible to form a possitive attitude if we don't provide real knowledge, not skewed and approppriately balanced.

That is the reason why we are working with Inundación Nunca Más Platform to release proposals in that level, like we did recently withe idea of Architect Julio Gianella, with realizing  information and interesting futuristic vision  for Piura City to grow out and reduce its vulneribility levels at the same time in case of future El Niño events. [Read the story]

We also released information about the rains radar installed by the university of Piura and how the National University of Piura's meteorological station works, those can be found with much other relevant information on http//

Likewise, as another personal note, I think the information protocols provided to the public by the media and the authorities must be reviwed, what must be written, must be available for the people inclusive, and must prove an effective methodology, as it happens in places constantly hit by natural disasters, like the case of hurricanes blowing the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, althought not exempt of similar or greater political controversy than El Niño, of course.

In the experience of hurricanes, and even the coverage of quakes in Mexico and Chile, the lead voice comes from the scientists, upon the authorities and the media make their contents. In fact, the Chilean protocols for notification and coverage of quakes are examples we must learn, replicate and innovate.

Our point is while we don't increase the knowledge, we never could achieve a possitive attitude.  For this reason, we think our job is not limited just to inform but  to add doses  of education and kindness with the clear inttention that people take the better decisions in a natural way.

Indeed, it will be a challenge  in a scenario very charged of partidarian politics, this year in special when our great fear is many postulations take advantage from the ignorance and the frustration of the community for promising impossibles or unviables, but we will not give up what we consider our duty and the right of the people at the same time.

Another aspect on we think we must work hard, which we request for the support of Psychologists College,  is helping the people to manage better the panic symptoms and speak clearily about what seems to be a massive post-traumatic stress syndrom, not only in the population in general but inclusive in many of our colleagues, who begin to experience anxiety episodes just when they know or perceive a rain is coming on, and for extension when any natural event breaks, like we also notice when we report quakes.

In that particular, it will be necessary to work with the local scientific community for educating ourselves and to educate everyone before nothing, then reporting, taking decisions after that. That is why FACTORTIERRA.NET offers its whole experience for being aligned to the academy and the scientific community of Piura with the purpose of participating actively in activities like workshops, courses, talkings, advisories, or consultancies to get all this ambitious plan and to give its hyperspace parcel for publishing, increasing the knowledge an improving the attitude.

Our major threat at this moment is that we don't have available resources like supporting bigger media than ours for making more intensive fielkd coverages, but we are talking about the formation of alliances which allow to get them to bring our services thinking on precision, quality, and trascendence, not only for who speak Spanish but everybody in general.

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