South America is exposed to a wide range of natural disasters – often as a consequence of climate change. Moreover, the region is confronted with one of the largest population displacement movements of its history: 5.1 million Venezuelans have left the country because of the deep socioeconomic crisis. On top of this, the coronavirus pandemic is causing a devastating impact across the region, pushing families and public authorities to the limit.
The socio-economic crisis in Venezuela has provoked an exodus of 5.1 million people, putting the capacity of public services and host communities in a delicate situation.
Coronavirus hit large parts of the continent with pre-existing vulnerabilities such as lack of access to basic services, vulnerable livelihoods and poor sanitary conditions. Health facilities and funerary services have become quickly overwhelmed, particularly in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and the Pacific coast of Colombia. The pandemic has particularly impacted the tri-border area of the Amazon between Brazil, Colombia and Peru and threatens to infect remote indigenous communities in the rainforest.
Climate change has increased the frequency, intensity and unpredictability of weather-related events. 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 healthcare. Helping affected populations recover their livelihoods is also essential. Protection needs of the most vulnerable groups have also been prioritised after emergencies.
Since 2018, the EU has provided €89 million in humanitarian assistance to people fleeing Venezuela in order to provide emergency healthcare, food assistance and protection, as well as support for the host communities. Specific actions have been implemented to provide immediate assistance to the most pressing needs created by the coronavirus pandemic.
From 2016 to 2019, the European Union allocated €19.7 million to disaster risk reduction (DRR) projects in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela, as well as to strengthen regional DRR strategies in South America. This includes €2.25 million to support emergency response and resilience in northern Peru, hit by severe floods in 2017, and €3 million to support resilience activities in Bolivia, affected by severe floods in 2014.
The EU’s annual disaster preparedness (DIPECHO) fund supports preparation initiatives of institutions and communities to disasters, violence and crises. ECHO 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. The EU has allocated €5.5 million for disaster preparedness projects in the region in 2019. This funding is on top of specific allocations addressed to the specific situations in Colombia and Venezuela
South America has also received immediate support in the aftermath of disasters, through the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism. Following the deadly earthquake that hit Ecuador in 2016 and claimed more than 650 lives, the EU coordinated relief efforts and provided €5 million in emergency response. In 2017, the EU also deployed 14 experts and 177 firefighters (from France, Portugal, and Spain) under the Mechanism to help Chile fight the worst forest fires ever recorded on the continent, which destroyed over 600,000 hectares during an exceptionally dry summer. The Mechanism was also activated to address Bolivia’s drought in October 2016, the worst floods in 30 years in Peru during March 2017, and to provide expert advice in environmental risks related to oil spill, dam integrity and stability in Colombia in 2018. In January 2019, an environmental expert was deployed through the Mechanism to support the CADRI mission in Bolivia.
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.