South America is one of the regions most exposed to natural disasters, including earthquakes and related tsunamis (three out of the seven largest earthquakes ever recorded happened in South America), volcanic eruptions (there are more than 204 active volcanoes in the continent), floods, drought, forest fires, hailstorms, and cold waves.
Disasters strike every year, affecting millions of people over vast, sometimes isolated regions. Climate change has also increased the frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters.
Floods and droughts continue to be the most significant and recurring disasters, but earthquakes and volcano eruptions are also frequent. These hazards affect communities already plagued by inequality and high levels of urbanisation (85% of South Americans live in cities).
When a disaster strikes, the most pressing needs are shelter, food and relief items (water cans, mattresses, cooking utensils, and hygiene products), access to safe water and proper sanitation, and primary health care. Helping affected populations recover their livelihoods is also essential. In the past years, an emphasis on protection issues has also been prioritised to support the most vulnerable population after emergencies.
Additionally, climate change has increased the frequency, intensity and unpredictability of weather-related events. Phenomena like El Niño (unusually warm temperatures in the equatorial Pacific) or La Niña (unusually cool temperatures) continue to cause extreme weather patterns and substantial economic impact, including significant loss of subsistence crops and livestock, affecting food security and livelihoods. In 2017, a localized coastal El Niño weather phenomenon caused severe floods in northern Peru and southern Ecuador. In 2018, La Niña phenomenon is expected to disrupt the Amazon Basin which spans eight different countries.
From 2016 to 2018, the European Commission has allocated €13.03 million to disaster risk reduction (DRR) projects in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela, as well as to strengthen DRR strategies in South America through educational and inter-governmental structures (such as UNASUR). This EU funding includes €2.25 million to support emergency response and resilience in northern Peru which was hit by severe floods in 2017, and €3 million to support resilience activities in Bolivia which was affected by severe floods in 2014.
Important efforts are also being undertaken to integrate DRR and risk management into humanitarian and development cooperation through joint programing with the Commission's Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development.
The European Commission, through its annual disaster preparedness (DIPECHO) fund, also supports preparation initiatives in order to increase communities' resilience and reduce their vulnerability in the months after a disaster. DIPECHO also supports local disaster response committees, drafting emergency plans, setting up early warning systems, information and education campaigns, reinforcing vital infrastructure (shelters, schools, and hospitals), protecting livelihoods, as well as promoting coordination among those responsible for anticipating or reacting to disasters.
South America has also received immediate support in the aftermath of disasters, through the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism (EUCPM). Following the deadly earthquake that hit Ecuador in 2016 and claimed over 650 lives, the EU provided immediate support by coordinating relief efforts and providing €5 million in emergency response. In 2017, the Commission also deployed 14 experts and 177 firefighters (from France, Portugal, and Spain) under the EUCPM to help Chile fight the worst forest fires ever recorded on the continent, which destroyed over 600 000 hectares during an exceptionally dry austral summer. The EUCPM was also activated to address Bolivia’s drought in October 2016 and the worst floods in 30 years in Peru in March 2017.
As the region experiences social changes, the EU promotes coordination across its humanitarian partners, civil society and the private sector for a more efficient response during emergencies in the region. Finally, early recovering and resilience against natural disasters is another important focus of the EU's support to the region.