Ingeominas, the Colombian government’s geology and mining institute, said Monday the country’s topography combined with a lack of understanding of extreme weather puts its population in permanent danger.
Martha Calvache, Ingeominas deputy director, said Colombia’s many mountains, large rivers and steep slopes, coupled with heavy rain, mean the country will always be at risk of flooding and landslides.
Even small landslides can cause deaths and severe injuries, because of a general lack of awareness in the population about how to protect itself — meaning it’s impossible to detect all the places that are at risk at any given time.
Calvache said, “Tragedies can happen everywhere as the majority of people do not have an understanding that the land is susceptible [to extreme weather]. They don’t notice what is around us, they do not have the right attitude for living where we are living, and so at-risk situations are created.”
In Colombia, a high risk weather situation is not high risk by chance, said Calvache. It becomes so through an ignorance of weather phenomenons and bad decision-making, such as building human settlements in illegal zones.
She warned, “Homeless families are frequently housed in dangerous places, and then judges order public services to be installed there. This legalizes a human settlement in a dangerous zone and heightens a situation of risk – the type that produces disasters the moment it rains.”
This year’s second rainy season has killed 134 people and affected more than 500,000, according to the Red Cross – and more people have died since that count was released last Wednesday. The government has been accused of failing to take adequate precautions, with multiple agencies arguing over who is most to blame.