Colombia is going through one of the most severe rainy seasons in decades. In twelve months of downpours, more than one million hectares (2.47 million acres) of productive land have been flooded, roads have been erased by mudslides, and big and small cities have been isolated and heavily damaged. So far, 428 people have died and 77 are reported missing, according to official figures. About 2.9 million people (6.4 percent of the total population) have been directly affected in 28 of the country’s 32 departments, according to the National Statistics Department.
“This is the worst natural tragedy in the history of the country, considering the number of people affected and the extension of the catastrophe,” said President Juan Manuel Santos. “It’s something like when Katrina hit New Orleans a few years ago, but this time we are talking about a whole country.”
The government estimates that this unprecedented rainy season, caused by the La Niña/El Niño weather phenomenon, could cost some 2.5 percent of the GDP. This is comparable to the destructive power of the country’s three most damaging natural disasters of the last 30 years: the earthquake in Armenia in 2001 (1.86 percent of GDP), the volcano eruption in Armero in 1985 (0.29 percent) and the earthquake in Popayan in 1983 (0.45 percent). But this time it’s all happening in one year.
Unpredictable forces of nature are in play in Colombia’s current disaster. No one can be blamed for that. But as national and local authorities wash their hands of responsibility, they persist in sponsoring policies and projects that alter (and sometimes destroy) the mechanisms that can both trigger or turn off such forces.