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Statement from Andrea Lari, Regional Director, and Alice Thomas, Climate Displacement Program Manager, Refugees International
“Massive rain and landslides in Colombia continue to wreak havoc across the country threatening the most vulnerable sectors of society. The torrential rains, which are likely to continue through April, have already affected more than 2 million people, claimed the lives of an additional 279, and destroyed nearly 3,000 homes.
“According to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, ‘the tragedy the country is going through has no precedents in [Colombian] history.’ The Colombian Institute for Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies has stated that this winter season is the worst in four decades. Along the country’s Caribbean coast alone, which has been hardest hit, the level of rainfall during the first part of December has been 300% of the average. With the number of homeless likely to reach 2 million, on December 7th President Santos declared a state of ‘economic, social and ecologic emergency’ and was forced to cancel his trip to the United Nations climate change conference in Mexico last week as a result of the devastating floods.
“Colombia faces multiple and unique environmental stresses, and climate change is likely to increase pressure on its fragile resources. According to climate scientists, the country's glaciers could disappear within 15 years, and wet highland areas that provide much of the country's fresh water are getting warmer and drier. While the rainy season in Colombia brings annual flooding, each year it is becoming more severe. The World Bank’s Natural Disaster Hotspot study indicates that Colombia has the highest landslide risk in all of South America, and is among the most likely to suffer severe economic losses due to floods and other natural hazards.
“The floods are likely to affect the most vulnerable, including over 4 million people who are internally displaced, the second highest number worldwide after Sudan, as a result of the long-standing internal armed conflict and human rights abuses perpetrated by guerilla groups, paramilitary forces and the Colombian military while conducting counterinsurgency and counternarcotics operations. Many displaced people live in poorly constructed shelters, shanty towns and crowded slums in and on the outskirts of urban areas, often along hillsides and river banks, that are especially vulnerable to floods and mudslides. The majority of Colombia’s flood affected areas are also home to people previously displaced by conflict, many of whom may face secondary and even tertiary displacement.
“While it is not possible to prove that any one weather event is the result of climate change, natural disasters have been increasing in force and frequency, in line with climate scientists' predictions of global warming, and are forcing more and more poor and vulnerable people from their homes each day. As these disasters tragically demonstrate, the international community is ill-prepared to effectively respond. Moving forward, the USG should conduct an assessment and develop guidelines for a whole-of-government response to mitigate projected increases in long-term displacement as a result of climate hazards. In addition, President Obama should request and the Congress should provide increased funding for disaster risk reduction activities to help people become more resilient in climate vulnerable countries like Colombia.”
Read Senator Patrick Leahy’s statement on the flooding in Colombia
For more information, read our In-Depth Report, “Confronting Climate Displacement: Learning from Pakistan’s Floods”.
Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. For more information, go to www.refugeesinternational.org.
For Immediate Release: December 21, 2010
Contact: Refugees International, Megan Fowler
P: 202-828-0110 x214