The Bolivian Red Cross requests emergency funds to deal with the serious flooding caused by the La Niña phenomenon

Published: 31 January 2008 0:00 CET

Serious flooding has caused a tragedy affecting hundreds of people in almost all the country’s regions. This has prompted the Bolivian Government, through its President Evo Morales, to declare a state of national emergency. This measure was warranted by the seriousness of the situation, as flooding this year has affected all the country’s departments to some degree or other. It is estimated that 80 per cent of the people affected in 2007 have also suffered the effects of the torrential rain again this year.

In Bolivia natural disasters are recurrent, and their effects are devastating, particularly in the rainy season, which runs from November to March. Since November 2007, heavy rains have been causing considerable damage in the communities of Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Chuquisca, La Paz and Potosí. Forecasts indicate that the rains will continue through to March. According to civil protection figures, the floods have so far affected 25,981 families, claimed 30 lives and left 5 missing. The people affected are trying to salvage what little they still have, but they also fear for their lives, because the poor state of the roads means that food supplies are taking a long time to get through.

The civil protection services are coordinating the emergency operations in the country and are undertaking numerous coordination initiatives with the formation of sectoral commissions to deal with issues such as food, health, water and sanitation and shelters at both the national and department level.

The National Emergency Operations Centre has been put into operation, and around 200 tonnes of food, including corn flour, rice, sugar, corn, vegetable oil and salt, have been distributed since 24 January. Blankets, mattresses, spades, picks, hoes and wheelbarrows have also been distributed. The centre is cooperating with other international organizations in addition to the Bolivian Red Cross, such as the Pan American Health Organization, World Vision, Oxfam and the United Nations System in Bolivia to carry out needs assessment and evaluation.

The President of the Bolivian Red Cross, Abel Peña y Lillo, explained that the National Society has a preliminary response plan to provide humanitarian assistance to a total of 1,200 families, 600 in Santa Cruz, 300 in Potosí and another 300 in La Paz. They will receive food parcels and hygiene kits. “One of the most serious problems that we are encountering is that the secondary roads are impassable as a result of the floods, which makes it difficult to get supplies and personnel specialized in assessment and response through to where they are needed,” added Rubén Romero, disaster management delegate.

The National Society’s National Disaster Relief Unit has alerted and mobilized all the Red Cross branches in the country, asking them to evaluate the damage and record the number of people affected in each of the country’s departments. Each of the branches has made requests for food, drugs, provisions, clothing and temporary shelters. The National Society is launching operations in coordination with the International Federation through PADRU and the programme divisions at the regional office for South America. At a later date, further action will be undertaken to promote economic recovery and protect the livelihoods of the most vulnerable families.

Bolivian Red Cross has been working on flood response since 2002, through the project for safer and healthier communities carried out in the district of Cotahuma, La Paz. This is one of the initiatives carried out by the disaster risk reduction department and is part of the integrated community work plan. The project has contributed to strengthening risk reduction and improving conditions and hygiene in the communities in the area. The success of this community initiative has been reflected in an improvement in organizational and response capacities in recent emergencies.

The work of the Bolivian Red Cross in this area contributes to achieving Goal 3 of the Federation’s Global Agenda, which is to “increase local community, civil society and Red Cross Red Crescent capacity to address the most urgent situations of vulnerability”.