Emergency humanitarian aid in favour of the population of Bolivia affected by the El Niño phenomenon


Location of operation: Bolivia
Amount of Decision: EUR 1,000,000
Decision reference number: ECHO/BOL/BUD/2007/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population.

1.1. - Rationale:

Since December 2006, extreme climatic events resulting from the El Niño phenomenon have occurred in several South American countries, affecting Bolivia with particular strength. These events include heavy rainfall, floods, droughts, hailstorms, strong winds, mudslides and landslides affecting the majority of the vast territory of Bolivia.

During the months of January and February, the rainfall was particularly intensive, producing serious flooding and river overflowing in the southern part of the country (Potosi, Chuquisaca and Tarija departments) and moving North towards La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz departments. During the last week of February, flooding seriously affected the Amazonian department of Beni, in the eastern part of Bolivia (see map below of river basin drainage). As expected, according to the river basin drainage, the flooding has begun to affect Pando department.

The national authorities classify this event as the worst in the past 40 years and even more severe than the 1992 floods which were considered the historical reference event. Water levels in the Beni have increased to 10.77m which is estimated as being between 6 to 7m above normal.

According to the national Meteorology service (SENAHMI) and the international Centre for El Niño phenomenon (CIIFEN), it is anticipated that the situation will remain precarious until April with the possible arrival of a cold front from Argentina, which could further damage crops, especially in the highlands.

The government declared a National Emergency on 18 January 2007. Support from the international community was requested on 7 February 2007.

The Civil Defence Vice Ministry reports that more than 350,000 people(1) (71,189 families) are now affected by heavy rains. Floods and mudslides triggered by heavy rains have left at least 34 dead and 6 missing as of 23 February. Given the slow onset type of disaster that characterizes these floods, the number of families in need is likely to rise on a daily basis, with the progressive increase in flooded areas. Up to now the final number of displaced people is not available, due to the inaccessibility of several affected areas, but preliminary figures provided report that about 25,000 people have been evacuated to temporary shelters in the entire country(2).

The magnitude of the event is large, with eight of the nine country departments concerned, which makes the situation difficult to handle for the Bolivian authorities. Bolivia is indeed highly disaster-prone and the poorest country of South America(3). The national authorities have estimated the losses at 230 million USD (100 USD million for the Beni department alone).

In most of the affected areas, one of the worst consequences for the population is total or partial loss of livelihoods assets, as the floods arrived just before the harvest. Those most affected by the floods are populations living in the vicinity of river zones. The bulk of this population lives mainly from subsistence agriculture and have lost their basic food crops, food stocks and livestock or their source of income as manual labourers due to the flooding of the fields. As the next harvest was expected in a few months, families were already getting by on dwindling supplies from the previous harvest when the flooding began. Early estimates report that between 56,841(4) and 70,000(5) hectares of cash crops have been destroyed, in particular in Santa Cruz, Beni, Potosi, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca and la Paz.

282 schools have been flooded while 30 others are being used as temporary shelters.

Most of the affected communities have experienced damage to major roads and bridges, and/or ruptures of gas and water pipelines, causing difficulties in accessing affected areas. Landslides, road obstructions and damage to small bridges have been reported across the country, especially in La Paz, Beni and Santa Cruz departments causing the isolation of several rural communities. There are difficulties in reaching affected areas as one of the few paved motorways (from La Paz to Santa Cruz) has been flooded. Other unpaved roads have also been cut off by flood waters such as the road from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz which is the main link between the East and West of the country, making the delivery of humanitarian aid even more complex. In Beni and Pando departments, there are still many inaccessible areas. Air rescue operations are limited, due to the small number of helicopters and weather restrictions.

Although numbers have not yet reached epidemic proportions, there are reports of dengue, malaria, gastrointestinal and skin disease cases scattered throughout the country. According to health authorities' report of 22 February:

- There are currently 1,660 cases of classic dengue. The biggest number of cases is registered in Santa Cruz (463 confirmed cases). In addition, 5 cases of haemorrhagic dengue and 3 cases of Hanta Virus have been registered in this department.

- 1454 cases of malaria are also reported in the country

- In Chuquisaca there are 32 confirmed cases of leptospirosis and 300 suspected cases

Stagnant waters are a breeding ground for the proliferation of vectors increasing the risk of disease outbreak. Lack of sanitation and hygiene in the affected areas is becoming a threat to the population in Santa Cruz, and a decision was taken to temporarily close the schools in districts most affected by the floods, as a way of containing outbreak of diseases. Due to the increase in water levels, another risk to the population is from snake bites.

The situation is complex and information in several areas remains scarce.

Currently, the most acute humanitarian situation is located in the Beni department, which is one of the poorest of the country(6) and the conduit for most of Bolivia's rains(7). The Municipality of Trinidad (capital of Beni department) is built on a protection 'ring', which has been broken by the increasing population that has built shanty towns beyond the protected area. The slow but steady rise in water levels, due to a mix of rainfall and already elevated river levels has saturated the soil, which maintains the level of flooding even after the rain has stopped. This is badly affecting the rural and the urban population beyond the protection ring of the Municipality of Trinidad. The situation is worse in the municipalities with smaller populations lacking such protection systems.

As a consequence of heavy rainfall in their upper parts, the five major rivers of the Beni Department have overflowed their banks. More than 14,000 people(8) are displaced in temporary shelters (schools and other public spaces, churches) in the Trinidad capital(9) alone and this number is likely to increase in the future, as most of the Department is not yet accessible and needs remain to be assessed in rural areas. Out of the 430,000 population living in Beni 130,000 are reported to be affected(10) . The capital of the Department is on red alert, as it is protected by a dike and it is feared that it might have to be evacuated if an overflow occurs. The historical level of rains reached during the 1992 floods has been vastly surpassed.

The number of affected people will also in all likelihood increase once the overflow of the rivers reaches the Pando Department, which is located in the North of the country. On 28 February, the department was declared in red alert, due the flooding of several municipalities in the provinces of Madre de Dios and Nicolas Suarez.

The local Civil Defence is leading the emergency response in the country, while COE (Emergency Operation Centres) have been activated at local and departmental levels. Damage and Needs Assessments are being carried out in affected areas by multidisciplinary teams where the focus remains on information collection from on-going assessments to identify life-threatening situations.

The Government of Bolivia has requested international support as the magnitude of the disaster is unprecedented in terms of geographic coverage and degree of impact, the location of the disaster is very difficult as far as access is concerned, and the affected population is in movement from rural to urban areas in order to reach humanitarian assistance.

From the date of the declaration of national emergency, the international community(11) began to commit funds to assist the population affected, prioritizing the highland departments of Bolivia (La Paz, Oruro, Potosi and Chuquisaca). However, the number of affected families currently supported by humanitarian assistance does not cover the full range of needs, given the extension of the event to the northern part of the country (Beni and Pando Departments).

Following the call for international assistance, a first DG ECHO(12) mission was deployed to Bolivia from 4 to 12 February in order to assess the humanitarian situation on the ground in the Santa Cruz department areas. Given the relatively good response capacity, it was decided not to intervene at this point in time. A second mission was sent to the Beni department on 28 February as a result of the severe degradation of the situation in the northern part of the country. First feedback from the field indicates that:

- A further aggravation of the situation is highly probable, due to the fact that many affected rural areas still remain inaccessible;

- The affected families are especially vulnerable, with few possibilities of coping and with significant needs in terms of water and sanitation and crop recovery. Some clear needs to improve disaster management and preparedness have been identified;

- Almost all the funds already pledged by different donors are focused on the southern departments of the country where the floods started, but humanitarian needs in the northern departments in remote areas, such as Beni and Pando, are not covered.

- There is very acute political tension between the President of Bolivia and the lowland departments of Beni and Santa Cruz (which are in the opposition), which is hampering a proper coordination of response efforts.


(1)OCHA sitrep 7 - 22 February 2007 and VIDECICODI 1 March

(2) OCHA Situation report 8 -28 February 2007

(3) According to UNDP (2005), 34.3% of the population lives in poverty and 14.4% in extreme poverty

(4) VIDECICODI 1 March

(5) OCHA Situation report 8 -28 February 2007

(6) It is a rural department where 35% of the population is indigenous

(7) Source: Oxfam asessment 1 March

(8) Source : Organizacion Panamericana de la Salud (PAHO), informe de la situacion de las inundaciones en

Trinidad, 26 February 2007

(9)The city of Trinidad has 90,000 inhabitants

(10) Source : PAHO

(11) UN agencies though WFP appeal, Consolidated Flash appeal, IFRC appeal, bilateral cooperation

(12) Directorate-Gneral for Humanitarian Aid - ECHO