Enrique Jair Guevara Communications Officer Americas Zone Office
The meteorological phenomenon known as La Niña, which brought first droughts to Paraguay, is causing problems in other parts of the region. Heavy rain fall over the past four months continues to cause severe flooding and landslides in several countries in South America, affecting Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru. The severe weather in the region has damaged crops and roads across the region, leaving many communities isolated, and seriously affecting the livelihoods of some 800,000 people living in mostly indigenous communities. Increased precipitation has also caused an increase in as epidemic risk for dengue, diarrheal, leptospira, malaria and other diseases.
To respond to these humanitarian needs nation Red Cross societies, in cooperation with local governments and with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), are using the nearly one million Swiss francs in disaster relief assistance to distribute food parcels, hygiene kits, and mosquito nets to some 56,000 beneficiaries.
Additionally the funds are being used in response to the dengue outbreak in flooded regions through dengue prevention campaigns and community-based health promotion. Although many National Societies are responding to the heavy rains, this weather phenomenon has also had the effect of causing droughts in Paraguay which prompted a request for assistance from the IFRC totalling 332,009 Swiss francs in emergency funding.
A similar situation unfolded last year when Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala were all affected by the heavy rains caused by Tropical Depression 12-E. On that occasion two large appeals and Disaster Relief Emergency Funds (DREF) were released totalling nearly 2.5 million Swiss francs in humanitarian assistance.
These recurring small scale disasters point to a changing tendency in emergency response operations. The cumulative impact of small to medium scale disasters is now often greater than the impact of a single large scale disaster. However, these small to medium scale cumulative disasters, like the repercussions of TD 12-E in Central America and La Niña’s effects in South America, simply do not make headlines
Jan Gelfand, Head of Operations for the IFRC in the Americas, said:“When we experience multi-country, multi-hazard events, it requires that we make use of the different components of our response system, beginning with community based response teams and moving to regional and then global tools if needed.”
Disasters and epidemics do not respect borders, a fact that highlights the need for continued collaboration amongst National Societies. Jorge Zequeira Pan-American Disaster Response Unit Coordinator, said: “At present the affected National Societies in South America are coming together because they are facing the same epidemic risks of dengue and diarrhoeal diseases caused by the large amount of rainfall. Therefore it is essential that we work together with National Societies to reduce this risk.
“There has been an increase in cooperation, but due to weather patterns, we have been responding to more small and medium scale meteorological disasters and crisis.”
Although the nature of the phenomena to which National Societies respond is changing, the Pan-American Disaster Response Unit continues to fulfil its role providing assistance and coordination during emergencies. “The ability to make use of Americas-based resources demonstrates the increased capacity of National Societies as well as points to the strength of a system, 10 years in the making, that facilitates response and collaboration in the face of disaster and crisis,” Jan Gelfand said.