New Internationalist

Caught in the rain

The National Relief Division of the Red Cross has reported that the rains that have affected Colombia this year have left 281 dead and 271 wounded. Carlos Iván Márquez, director of the Red Cross also said that 68 were missing and more than 2.2 million have been made homeless throughout the country, with 3,000 homes destroyed and more than 300,000 buildings damaged.

So far, the most affected departments are Bolivar, Magdalena, Atlántico, Guajira, Córdoba and Sucre, all in the north of the country.

The Colombian government has estimated that about 5,000 million dollars is needed to repair the damage caused by the storms. So far, $10.5 million in donations has been received or promised from 21 countries in solidarity with the victims. For example, Ecuador’s government has said it will send 36 tonnes of aid for regions affected by floods in Venezuela and 32 for Colombia.

Germain Vargas, Interior and Justice Minister, promised that the government would give to the Red Cross 22 farms confiscated from drug dealers, so that they can house people there who have lost their homes. The minister said that if the procedure worked it would do the same in other parts of the country.

US engineers working in the area described the incident as ‘one of the worst’ tragedies in the country’s history and estimated it would take at least 10 years to rebuild what has been lost.

But as always with this kind of tragedy, one of the main concerns now is how to control disease. The National Director of Public Health, Lenis Urquijo, said that there have been outbreaks of seasonal flu, stomach ailments, diarrhoea and hepatitis. Colombia currently has the highest number of dengue cases in its history – 149,000 – and 196 patients have died. In addition, 109,000 people have been affected by malaria, of whom 20 have died. The executive has ordered that supplies of vaccines be replenished and has called on governors and mayors to incorporate additional budgets for prevention plans.

According to statements by Dr Juan Carlos Nunez, a specialist in emergencies and disasters, to the Colombian newspaper El Espectador, the situation in the shelters is poor. Dr. Nuñez explained in the interview that there are water leaks in the basement, that latrines are inadequate, and that victims are overcrowded.

The President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, suggested in an interview with Caracol Radio, that it was time to ‘think big’ and even suggested the creation of new cities. The president said that ‘too many people are living in coastal areas or slopes on the mountains, taking risks on most days, and the country should worry about their safety.’ In this regard, he added: ‘The ideal is that 100 per cent of the population live on safe land.’ In his statement he also explained that one of the decrees issued was to evacuate all high risk places, ‘because the government’s priority is to ensure the safety of its citizens.’

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