South America is highly exposed to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, droughts and wildfires. Three of the seven largest earthquakes ever recorded struck South America, a continent with over 200 active volcanoes.
Colombia’s ongoing conflict keeps adding to the largest forced internal displacement crisis in the world that counts 7.4 million forcibly displaced Colombians (government figures). Venezuela’s socio-economic crisis has caused 3 million Venezuelans to leave the country since 2015 (I.O.M., November 2018) to seek shelter in neighboring countries.
Given high levels of socio-economic inequality and an 85% rate of urbanisation (most South Americans live in cities, many in neighborhoods exposed to landslides), natural disasters have a devastating effect on vulnerable communities. Climate change has increased the frequency, intensity and unpredictability of natural disasters. Extreme weather patterns can cause loss of crops and livestock with dramatic consequences for South Americans’ livelihoods.
Venezuela’s socio-economic crisis is causing a collapse of basic public services (including healthcare and education), scarcity of food, violence, insecurity, and epidemic outbreaks. It has triggered unprecedented population displacements with 1 million Venezuelans seeking refuge in Colombia, 506 000 in Peru, and 221 000 in Ecuador alone. Many more seek shelter in the Caribbean and Central America. This is the largest migratory flow ever recorded in Latin America, according to the U.N.
In Colombia, the 2016 Peace Accord has changed the dynamics of the internal conflict, but resulted in a resurgence of violence by armed groups. The conflict now affects a growing number of regions, particularly on the Pacific coast and in the country’s northeast. Thousands flee attacks against civilians, and the number of internally displaced people again increased in 2018.
Populations affected by these crises need protection, access to food, water and sanitation, healthcare and education.
From 2016 to 2018, the European Union allocated over €13 million to disaster risk reduction (DRR) projects in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Projects aim to strengthen DRR strategies at a national and regional level, through educational and inter-governmental structures.
The European Union, through its annual Disaster Preparedness (DIPECHO) fund, also strengthens communities' resilience in the months after a disaster. EU projects support local disaster response committees, draw emergency plans, set up early warning systems, create information and education campaigns, reinforce vital infrastructure (shelters, schools, and hospitals), protect livelihoods and promote coordination among national institutions anticipating or responding to disasters.
The EU funded €2.25 million in emergency response and resilience in northern Peru (hit by severe floods in 2017), and €3 million for resilience-building projects Bolivia (also affected by severe floods in 2014).
The EU Civil Protection Mechanism has also been deployed to South America on several occasions, to assist in the aftermath of Ecuador’s deadly 2016 earthquake (which claimed over 650 lives) or Chile’s unprecedented wildfires (which destroyed over 600 000 hectares during an exceptionally dry summer). In Chile, 14 experts and 177 firefighters - from France, Portugal, and Spain - helped to bring the largest forest fires ever recorded on the continent under control. The Mechanism was also activated in March 2017 to address Peru’s worst floods in 30 years, or Bolivia’s extreme drought in October 2016.
The EU has funded €239 million in humanitarian aid to Colombians since 1994. To help those who have fled Venezuela’s socio-economic crises, the EU pledged €55 million in assistance to Venezuelans in 2017 and 2018, throughout the continent.
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.