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Washington, DC – Refugees International (RI) issued a report today entitled, Surviving Alone: Improving Assistance to Colombia’s Flood Victims, based on a recent mission to assess the humanitarian response to floods that have devastated much of Colombia over the last year. Refugees International staff traveled to numerous flood-affected areas and interviewed displaced people, government officials, UN agency staff and environmental experts. The report outlines in stark detail how thousands of people were still not receiving basic assistance months into the disaster -- including food, water, sanitation and shelter – and recommends key steps to immediately provide assistance and prepare for future natural disasters.
Over the past year, rainfall levels in Colombia were the highest in recorded history reaching 400% their annual average in certain regions. Three million people have been affected, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The economic losses to homes, agriculture, infrastructure and other property could top 10 billion pesos ($5.3 billion). As climate change is likely to increase Colombia’s vulnerability to floods, droughts and other natural hazards, the report urges humanitarian and development agencies to adapt their programs to prepare for future climate variability. With ongoing rains expected to last until June, the emergency is not over.
“Thousands of vulnerable people are living in dire conditions and lack access to food, clean water and shelter,” said Alice Thomas, Climate Displacement Program Manager for Refugees International, and author of Surviving Alone. “Meanwhile, the Colombian government has imposed a cumbersome bureaucratic process that is severely hindering the distribution of humanitarian aid.”
Since President Santos declared a state of emergency in December, the Colombian government has successfully mobilized hundreds of millions of dollars in flood relief. But Refugees International found that a new system for distributing the money was wrought with challenges and delays. The report also describes how the severity of the emergency overwhelmed the capacity of existing government aid agencies and non-government organizations. A confusing and uncoordinated array of actors is now involved in the response, and there is little information on the specific needs of the people who have been affected by the floods.
The UN Humanitarian Country Team’s response was also described as “disappointing” given the significant numbers of vulnerable people affected – including those displaced by Colombia’s decades-long internal conflict. An RI team visited dozens of communities that were still without water and sanitation, as well as numerous areas where people were living in sub-human conditions in makeshift shelters. The situation was particularly alarming in Atlántico Department, where the breach of the Dique Canal had left large areas still underwater.
“We know that natural disasters are going to continue to plague Colombia,” said Alice Thomas. “But if the government and UN agencies work with local communities to prepare now, we can save lives, reduce displacement, and prevent severe economic losses.”
Refugees International is calling for the Government of Colombia to remove administrative barriers to its aid distribution system, strengthen local capacity and allow UN agencies to more fully support the flood response. The UN must also strengthen its staffing and better prepare for future natural disasters by identifying vulnerable populations and preparing, updating and promptly implementing natural disaster contingency plans.
Watch this video of a couple sharing their story of being displaced by the flooding in Atlántico Department.
Refugees International is a Washington DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. The Ken & Darcy Bacon Center for the Study of Climate Displacement was established at Refugees International in August 2009 thanks to a generous financial contribution made by Ken & Darcy Bacon just before Mr. Bacon’s death. For more information, go to www.refugeesinternational.org
For Immediate Release: May 19, 2011
Contact: Megan Fowler, +1-202-540-7014