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Need for assistance remains after floods in Colombia

At the start of the year, many northern and coastal provinces of Colombia flooded after weeks of heavy rain.

Over two million people were affected and the flood waters destroyed thousands of homes, with an estimated 250,000-300,000 damaged. The President, Juan Manuel Santos, declared the floods to be the “worst natural catastrophe” in Colombia’s history. In response to the disaster, a large amount of emergency aid was organised, with the help of agencies such as UNHCR and the Red Cross. However, over a month later, many Colombians remain in dire need of assistance, dependent on food aid and living in makeshift shelters. The Country Director of Plan International warned some parts of Colombia have been “set back 15 to 20 years”.

The Colombian government have allocated over 260 million dollars to help those affected by the floods, but locals in some regions say they have received no assistance to help rebuild. One such community is the town of Pedraza in northeast Colombia, where crops and livestock were washed away. Over 80 per cent of the population rely on the land and among the displaced, many are now going hungry. An ambassador for the Inspector General’s office who visited the area at the start of this month warned “children are the most affected”.

The Country Director of Plan International, Gabriela Bucher, said the charity was working to provide over 16,000 people with food supplies, as well as distributing other necessities like blankets, mosquito nets, cooking items and water-purification tablets. In addition, the Director spoke of projects to set up ‘child-friendly spaces, where kids can play and learn about issues that affect them’. This is especially important in areas where schooling has been disrupted. Over 850 school buildings were damaged in the floods and 360 are being used as temporary shelters. Families who have taken refuge in public buildings are often living in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation and a lack of medical care.

Across the country, the flood disaster is estimated to have cost the nation between 3 to 5 billion dollars and government assistance will in no way cover all the needs. Many farmers and rural dwellers are unlikely to receive compensation and will have to rebuild their lives from scratch. Providers of micro-insurance, low-cost insurance policies aimed at the poor, are therefore seeing a huge surge in demand since the floods. The Colombian office of one micro-insurance company reports it is selling over 60,000 policies a month. Micro-insurance packages cost between 0.5 dollars and 2 dollars per month and aim to provide the poor with a safety net which covers their livelihoods, health and property. Since 2010 has been one of the worst years on record for natural disasters, the industry believes the poor in countries like Colombia are beginning to realise that they can no longer rely on outside assistance and overstretched charities, but must seek additional ways to protect themselves.

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