According to government figures, the torrential rains which have hit Colombia over the past few months have now affected nearly 2 million people. More than 240 people have died and hundreds of thousands have had to flee their homes in the worst flooding seen in the country in over three decades. Many towns and villages, especially along the country’s Pacific and Atlantic coastlines have been submerged, some only navigable by boat or canoe. Others are now ghost towns as residents have abandoned their homes. Last week, the Colombian government declared a state of national emergency for a month. United Nations (UN) agencies have raised almost 6 million dollars to provide emergency aid.
28 of Colombia’s 32 provinces have now been affected by the rains, with an estimated 200,000 hectares of farmland under water. As well as the damage and destruction to around 300,000 homes, the flooding has closed over 500 schools. Around 320,000 children have been affected, though some have been able to attend classes in temporary shelters.
Though the government has said the country is not yet experiencing food shortages, Save the Children is worried about the risk of hunger for up to half a million children, particularly those of poor subsistence farmers who have lost all their crops. Action Against Hunger, working in the northern Cordoba province, has also expressed serious concerns about the health of under fives. The charity has already noted cases of diarrhoea among the youngest children have risen fivefold since the rains began. Waterborne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever are also proving a greater risk, as are snake bites. Snakes transported by the flood waters have bitten nearly 4,000 people, resulting in 27 deaths.
Distributing aid and supplies is proving extremely difficult in some areas, since 3000 kilometres of roads have been damaged or made impassable by flooding or landslides caused by the heavy rains. Aid agencies are also warning of dwindling supplies of clean water in some regions.
The Colombian government has already put aside 550 million dollars from its budget to deal with the disaster. And ministers are looking into measures to raise additional funds, such as temporary taxes next year and the selling of government shares in the state-owned oil company Ecopetrol. So far, official estimates put total costs of the flooding at around 5 billion dollars. But the head of the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs in Bogota believes actual losses could equate to as much as 20 million dollars. And there seems no end in sight to the misery, with more rain forecast over the coming months.