South America is one of the regions most exposed to natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, drought, and forest fires. Disasters strike every year, affecting millions of people over vast, sometimes isolated regions. Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of weather-related hazards. The region is furthermore experiencing two complex crises with a regional impact, stemming from the socio-economic crisis in Venezuela, and internal violence in Colombia.
Natural disasters affect communities already plagued by inequality and high levels of urbanisation (85% of South Americans live in cities). Additionally, climate change has increased the frequency, intensity and unpredictability of weather-related events that affect 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.
When a disaster strikes, the most pressing needs are shelter, food, access to safe water and proper sanitation, and primary healthcare. Helping affected populations recover their livelihoods is also essential. In the past years, protection issues have also been prioritised to support the most vulnerable populations after emergencies.
The socio-economic crisis unfolding in Venezuela is marked by lack of access to basic services, scarcity of food, violence, insecurity and epidemic outbreaks. Children under 5, women, elderly people and indigenous populations are the most affected. The crisis has triggered an unprecedented population displacement, with over 3 million Venezuelans fleeing to neighbouring countries. This represents one of the largest migratory flow ever recorded in Latin America.
In Colombia, the changing dynamics of the internal conflict following the 2016 Peace Agreement have resulted in a resurgence of violence by armed groups, affecting a growing number of areas across the country, particularly on the Pacific coast and in the northeastern regions. As a consequence of attacks against civilians, the number of internally displaced people and of communities deprived of access to basic services has increased in 2018.
From 2016 to 2018, the European Commission has allocated over €13 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.
Additionally, DRR and risk management are being integrated 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 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 received immediate support in the aftermath of disasters, through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. 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 Mechanism 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 Mechanism was also activated to address Bolivia’s drought in October 2016 and the worst floods in 30 years in Peru in March 2017.
In 2018-2019, the EU is funding €39 million in relief assistance to Venezuelans, both inside Venezuela and in neighbouring countries, so as to provide emergency healthcare, food assistance and protection to those in need. In Colombia the EU is providing €12 million in relief assistance over the same period.
As South America 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.