Winter has come to Colombia — and that means rain, rain, and more rain. As of this week, 28 out of the 33 of the country’s departments are on high alert due to flooding caused by unending downpours and overflowing river basins. Hundreds of people have died or been critically injured, tens of thousands have lost their homes, and crop yields are being catastrophically affected.

Rio Magdalena. Photo by Alexrk2, 2010, via Wikimedia Commons.

Colombia’s two largest rivers — Río Magdalena and Río Cauca — have both risen to historically high levels. Big cities and small towns alike have experienced sudden, devastating flooding. Early in the morning of May 8, for example, the inhabitants of the small city of San José Uré in the department of Córdoba woke up to find their streets running with brown water, the result of landslides in the surrounding hills. With no warning, many of the city’s residents were left without a home or access to food and clean water. The regional and national governments mobilized quickly to provide assistance, but as more and more townships have become affected, emergency services have become harder to provide.

In the department of Antioquía, one of the hardest hit, 40,000 people are currently homeless and dependent on government assistance. In the city of Cali, the country’s third largest, thousands of people with residences close to Río Cauca were preventively evacuated last week. Since then, the river has continued to rise, affecting many of the city’s neighborhoods. Even in the capital of Bogota, the rains caused disruptions in ground and air transport and forced some schools and businesses to close.

The impact of the flooding has been felt across the agricultural sector, especially cocoa, beans, corn, plantain, and sugarcane crops. Government officials estimate that up to 90% of land cultivated with sugarcane has been affected by rain and river water, slowing down to a crawl the production of sugar and bioethanol. This will have lasting effects on the national economy as a whole, but especially on the agricultural workers and their families.

The rains are beginning to cause some social unrest as well. In the Buenaventura area, civic protest were organized over the past several days to protest the lack of drinking water in many towns (itself the result of flooding). Last Friday, hundreds of protesters turned violent, setting fires to block roads and looting area businesses. Reports of injuries have poured in as police forces have responded forcefully to the unrest.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Photo by Wilson Dias, 2010, via Wikimedia Commons.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, denounced the violence, and has been vocal in pushing his countrymen to take long-term measures to avoid property damage and loss of life. The question is whether this type of weather patterns will become the new normal for Colombia.

Global climate change, as is well known by now, has increased the probability of extreme weather events, as well as intensified the effects of periodic climactic patterns such as the El Niño ocean current. President Santos is among the most vocal leaders in Latin America arguing for strong steps to combat the effects of global warming.

In addition, human activity in and around the river basins has significantly exacerbated the problem. Besides the Magdalena and Cauca, extended sections of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers also cross Colombia, where they’re seeing their water levels rise to flood cities and fields.

As in many other regions of the world, flooding has been made more likely by widespread deforestation to clear way for human settlements and agriculture. Trees naturally absorb great quantities of moisture; likewise, their presence prevents soil erosion, while their absence speeds it up.

Pollution, from chemicals and trash, becomes all the more visible when the waters rise and spill out of reservoirs. Unsurprisingly, the people most affected by contaminated water are those whose homes are also at higher risk of flooding.

Colombia is dealing with a complex political moment, as it tries to finally end the civil conflict that has plagued it for over half a century. The economy, already sputtering in the early 2010s, has hit an even tougher stretch over the last couple of years. Displaced people, drowned crops, and social instability will only complicate finding the way out of these thorny situations. The rains will eventually stop, but the devastation will remain.

Crossing the Magdalena River to safety during historic flooding. Photo by David~, Via Flickr.


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One response to “Torrential Rains in Colombia Will Have Lasting Effects”

  1. We chose ours governors to be ours managers for ours Colombian resources using the effectiveness and efficiency, but after all every year we have flooding in ours communities;
    Without prevention, prediction and/or correction.

    Where are those governments programs in time election Mr. President Juan Manuel Santosh and Mr. Governor (Bolivar State)? Right now we are taking the risk to have same kind of flooding like in this country we had few months ago, SOUTH OF THE COUNTRY (PUTUMAYO). On top of this, from another department (Boyacá State) opened some gates, do not thinking how all of this water may affect others communities. We have been reporting all of these for years to our local and national government by radio, press and television and maybe they react temporary but later everybody is deaf, blind and dumb.

    Also someone who works for the Governor department declared to a local press (El Universal De Cartagena) that the local government has trucks with sand and people working in the area to make mild and have control of situation… IT’S A LIE
    Why always control the problem?
    Why we can not deserve solution?
    Where are the trucks?
    Are we blind?

    .The trucks are the poor people from a small village GUALI, South of Bolivar; who are working without gas, just with some foods and water from our incomes

    Why just have control of this problem?
    Why we do not deserve a real solution?
    Why the poor people have to lose the few things that they have every year and have their families in the middle of all of these?
    Why always same?

    We are tired, we are humans, our children get sick because of all these flooding, we get bites from snakes because we have to walk and swim in the water and sometimes we can not even carry our stuff to sleep somewhere and prepare food for the next day.

    Mr. “President of Colombia” Juan Manuel Santos and Mr. “Governor of Bolivar State”:
    It’s our pleasure to invite both of you to come to out community and enjoy the pleasure of this work: making heavy bags and moving tons of sand to try to hold the water, hold the hot weather, smile when mosquitoes bites, hold the body pain after working 6-12 hours, feeling hungry and thirsty and just pray and do not lose our hope that our families will have a safe place to sleep and something to eat, pray and do not lose the hope that everything will be better

    Feeling confident that after the good work both of you can do here; not only will prepare a good program with a project, also make it real to solve the problem that we have to face every year and do not worry we can help moving the tons of sand and making the heavy bags in the meantime the trucks come. Do not forget the raining boats and about repellent and sunscreen, it is OK, both you can make it a habit.



    “Ariel Zambrano Meza, director de la Oficina de Gestión del Riesgo y Desastres de la Gobernación, indicó que tras cumplir con todos los protocolos, se atendieron los dos puntos críticos en el corregimiento Gualí y el chorro La Victoria. “Dimos respuesta urgente a estos dos puntos que habían comprometido sectores del municipio. Gracias a la intervención oportuna a la Unidad Nacional de Riesgo, la Gobernación de Bolívar y la Alcaldía, se dio respuesta de manera inmediata”, precisó.

    Agregó que para las labores de mitigación se han suministrado 30 mil costales para colocarlos en puntos críticos pues las cotas de inundaciones han sido superadas.”

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