Colombia: La Niña phenomenon (Floods) - DREF Final Report (MDRCO018)

Situation Report
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Description of the disaster

The Colombian Red Cross Society (CRCS) created an Emergency Plan of Action (EPoA) to prepare for and respond to the likely effects of the 2021 La Niña phenomenon in Colombia. As a preventive activation plan, CRCS conducted preparedness actions to be able to address a potential emergency effectively and efficiently. Initially, this plan was to be implemented for three months (17 January to 17 April 2021) and target three departments in the country (Guajira, Magdalena, and Norte de Santander). It considered that the first annual rainy season in the country has historically brought with it intense rainfall in April and May that increase the water level of rivers, which in previous years significantly affected the areas close to their banks, especially in the targeted departments. For instance, Magdalena department is affected by the Magdalena River; La Guajira is affected by increased water levels in some streams that are used as roads during the dry season but cause flooding in nearby localities during the rainy season, as well as by the Ranchería River, which causes significant impact to the population along its banks; and in Norte de Santander, the most significant impact is caused by the landslides and flooding that occur in lower lying areas of the department.

On 19 March 2021, the National Disaster Risk Management Unit (UNGRD) issued national memorandum No. 10 on preparedness and readiness measures for the first rainy season of 2021. This required municipal and departmental Disaster Risk Management Councils to activate their Emergency Plans and coordinate closely with both operational agencies of the National Disaster Risk Management System (SNGRD) and the communities likely to be affected, in order to be able to act in a timely manner to prevent risks to people's lives and, if possible, their basic assets. The memorandum activated the National Contingency Plan for the first rainy season and possible occurrence of the La Niña phenomenon in the period from 16 March to 16 June 2021. In this regard, the memorandum indicated the need of strengthening of Municipal Disaster Risk Management Council preparedness and response mechanisms, while enhancing risk communication processes by sharing official information provided by SNGRD with technical entities such as IDEAM (Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies).

In view of this memorandum issued by UNGRD, the Colombian Red Cross Society solicited a two-month no-cost extension for the DREF (to June 2021) since the rainy season-related risks would continue through June. Contrary to forecasts based on previous years, no adverse events occurred in targeted branches. However, it could not be ruled out that weather conditions could change and generate situations of concern in these departments.

Despite the forecasts issued regarding the development and occurrence of the La Niña phenomenon in Colombia in 2021, the weather phenomenon did not have the expected level of influence in the departments prioritized by the DREF at the time it was prepared. However, more constant rainfall was seen in certain areas in the country than those historically recorded in previous years. For example, in Huila department, constant rains in January and February caused increased water levels that mainly affected some community aqueducts as well as pedestrian bridges in urban areas. In the Valle del Cauca department, the constant rains in early 2021 caused the Cauca River and other large tributaries to overflow and flood some urban areas and crops. However, this situation was seasonal, and conditions quickly returned to normal. In Chocó and Antioquia departments in northwest Colombia, intense rains caused flooding along the banks of the Atrato River and landslides in certain areas in Antioquia.

Given the minor level of impact of the La Niña in the targeted departments, the planned DREF operation actions were limited to Trigger 1 (i.e., readiness actions), which are described in the following sections of this report.