07/11/2011 — Mudslides in western Colombia following days of heavy rain killed at least 36 people at the weekend and dozens are still missing, according to national authorities. The European Commission's department of Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) is closely monitoring the situation. In one city of 350.000, Manizales, a landslide swept into homes, leaving 29 dead and many missing; then in Cali on Sunday, a rain-swollen river burst its banks and killed seven people, most of them children.
Colombia has been battered by one of its worst rainy seasons in living memory this year, with dozens killed and some 250,000 people having to be evacuated from their homes. Over the last year ECHO provided 2.6 million euro in assistance to victims of floods, mudslides and cold-waves in Colombia. This aid from ECHO has been used in two ways, firstly in immediate disaster relief to alleviate suffering caused by persistent rains and extreme cold temperatures during the winter, and also by providing primary health services, water filters, storage tanks, temporary shelters, family food packages and non-food items such as mosquito nets.
The second focus of ECHO funding in Colombia is to increase resilience in communities frequently affected by disasters through its Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programs (DIPECHO). These DRR projects are far from complete and the current disaster is proof of this, increased urbanisation and land-degradation due to coffee plantations are believed to have contributed to these mudslides and their high death toll.
In 2010 ECHO spent €1.2 million on these types of disaster preparedness projects in Colombia. ECHO's implementing partners in Colombia are Oxfam GB, WFP, ACF-Spain, Nederland Red Cross, German Red Cross, Save the Children Fund, Caritas Germany and Mercy Corps who provided assistance in 14 regions of the country. In response to this current disaster sniffer dogs and hundreds of rescuers are searching for dozens of people feared buried under mud and rubble after their houses were washed away or completely buried but continuing torrential rain is hampering search efforts.