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A tough life on Lima's rough edges

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 8:33 am

LIMA, Peru — A little more than a half hour by car from the touristy Lima of fine cuisine and breezy seaside promenades is the soup kitchen where Juan Barrueta, an 84-year-old candy vendor, pays less than a dollar for lunch.

The dusty, chaotic peripheries of this capital of 9 million people bulge with dirt-poor peasants, many of them transplants from the Andean highlands who pour in every day, unprepared for life in the big city. Most join the more than 60 percent of Peruvians in the informal economy.

Peru's economy nearly doubled in size over the past decade, the International Monetary Fund ranking it as the world's eighth-fastest growing economy. Yet nearly 2 million of Lima's inhabitants live without running water.

Access to quality health care and education is little more than a dream in dusty settlements that ring Lima and carry such hopeful names as "Villa Rica" (Rich Town), "Nueva Esperanza" (New Hope) and "Manantial" (Water Spring).

The people who live on Lima's fringes work as domestic servants, security guards and bus and taxi drivers in an anarchy of traffic and informality. For some, a one-way commute to jobs that pay less than $15 a day takes two to three hours on several rickety buses.

Those who can't afford rent squat on Lima's periphery, raising homes of wood and cardboard in a desert city where the only rain comes in the form of ocean mist.

Water is always an issue.

The poorest in Lima end up paying up to 10 times more for it from cistern trucks than the inhabitants of Lima's wealthy coastal districts.

And it's not available when they need to put out a fire.

Residents of the "El Progreso" neighborhood experienced that anguish in late October when they helplessly watched a blaze consume 2 blocks of homes.

In minutes, they joined the ranks of the destitute alongside Barrueta, the vendor encountered at the soup kitchen who sells candy and cookies at the entrance to the Virgen de Lourdes cemetery in the Villa Maria de Triunfo district,

"There are days when I don't sell a thing," says Barrueta. "And there are days when I only earn a dollar."