South America is exposed to multiple, often combined, natural hazards. Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of these weather-related disasters and has been hampering the resilience of the most vulnerable communities. Moreover, the region is confronted with one of the largest population displacement movements of its history: more than 5.2 million Venezuelans have sought refuge in neighbouring South American countries (of which 1.8 million in Colombia, 363,000 in Ecuador and 830,000 in Peru).
The socio-economic crisis in Venezuela has provoked an exodus of 5.2 million people, straining the capacity of public services and host communities.
In parallel, in September 2020, Latin America remains the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with sharply rising numbers of infections and deaths. Large parts of the region with pre-existing vulnerabilities such as lack of access to basic services, vulnerable livelihoods and poor sanitary conditions have been hit by the pandemic. Health facilities and funerary services have become quickly overwhelmed, particularly in Venezuela, the Amazonian borders of Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and the Pacific coast of Colombia. The pandemic has severely impacted the tri-border area of the Amazon between Brazil, Colombia and Peru and threatens to infect remote indigenous communities in the rainforest.
Besides the spread of the coronavirus, climate change and unpredictability of weather-related events also has a negative impact on the livelihoods and resilience of vulnerable populations.
When a disaster strikes, the biggest needs are shelter, food and relief items, 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 allocated €156 million in humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Venezuelans in and outside the country, in order to provide emergency healthcare, food assistance and protection, as well as support for the host communities.
Responding to the novel coronavirus has become a priority to the EU. For that reason, it has mobilised €43.5 million to face the pandemic. This amount includes both specific allocations and the redirection of resources from more than 60 projects. All EU-funded humanitarian projects include actions aimed at supporting vulnerable persons in protecting themselves from the coronavirus as guaranteeing access to water, conducting awareness campaigns, distributing hygiene kits and providing medical care. Particular attention has been given to the impact of the virus on the indigenous populations in the region. As part of the EU global response to the coronavirus, a Humanitarian Air Bridge operation consisting of 3 flights delivered life-saving material to Peru.
From 2016 to 2019, the European Union allocated €12.7 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 cover resilience activities in Bolivia, affected by severe floods in 2014.
The EU’s annual disaster preparedness fund (DIPECHO) supports preparation initiatives of institutions and communities to disasters, violence and crises. The EU 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 earmarked €6.5 million for disaster preparedness projects in the region in 2020. This funding is on top of dedicated allocations addressed to the specific situations in Colombia and Venezuela.
South America has also received immediate support in the aftermath of disasters via 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 and 2019, the EU also deployed experts and firefighters under the Mechanism to help Chile and Bolivia respectively fight some of the worst forest fires recorded on the continent. 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.