Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos declared a state of emergency to cope with the catastrophe caused by this year’s rainy season, which has killed more than 200, uprooted thousands of families, and affected more than 1.6 million Colombians.
“Tonight we are taking the decision to firstly declare a disaster situation [in the town of Bello] and secondly declare an economic, social and ecological emergency … initially for 30 days, but it can be extended to 90 days,” the president said in a televised speech after returning from the town just north of Medellin where a landslide is feared to have killed 124 residents of a poor hillside slum.
The state of emergency will allow the government to take a number of measures in the short, medium and long term and will consist of three phases, said Santos.
“The first will be dedicated to humanitarian aid, as in saving lives and providing shelter and food to the approximately 330,000 families that need this. The second will be a phase of rehabilitation to repair the roads, schools, power networks and other infrastructural works that must be recovered. The third phase – which will be the biggest and most ambitious of all – will be reconstruction, which implies the repair of everything that has been destroyed or has become useless,” the president said.
Santos explained that he and his ministers decided to declare the emergency because the gravity of the situation in Colombia has exhausted the government’s capacity. According to the president, Bogota has already invested COP0.5 trillion ($264 million) in attending to the problems caused by the extended rainy season. “The needs go beyond our economic capacity and have also flooded the agencies specialized in disaster attention,” said Santos.
This year’s extended rainy season – caused by weather phenomenon “La Niña” – started in March and has devastated the country. According to the government, 80% of the country’s roads are damaged, more than 200 persons are confirmed killed by floods and landslides, 1.6 million people have suffered damage to their homes or lands, and many hectares of crops were lost in floods.
To help mitigate the effects of the disastrous rainy season, the U.S. ambassador to Bogota on Tuesday announced his country will donate a total of $1 million to the Colombian branch of the Red Cross to provide immediate help to victims. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) offered Colombia a $350 million loan, and United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon promised to “do everything possible to help.”
Colombia’s Consul General in Miami opened a number of U.S. bank accounts and a PayPal account where foreigners and migrants can donate money. Colombia’s embassy in Washington is working on its website to allow donations to be given directly through the website. Several social organizations in the U.S. and Colombia are also looking for donations.