Colombia: Volcano DREF Operation No. MDRCO003 Update No. 1


Glide No. VO-2008-000046-COL

The International Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) is a source of un-earmarked money created by the Federation in 1985 to ensure that immediate financial support is available for Red Cross and Red Crescent response to emergencies. The DREF is a vital part of the International Federation's disaster response system and increases the ability of national societies to respond to disasters.

Period covered by this update: 19 April to 14 July, 2008.

Summary: CHF 103,000 (USD 105,060 or EUR 65,438) was allocated from the Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) on 18 April, 2008 to support the National Society in delivering assistance to over 2,250 families (11,250 people).

On 29 March, 2008 the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining (Instituto Colombiano de Geología y Minería - INGEOMINAS) emitted an orange alert (II) due to the volcanic activity of the Nevado del Huila volcano. Currently, the level of volcanic activity has been scaled down to yellow (III), meaning that there is still a moderate level of activity, but that the risks of eruption are not as imminent.

This DREF operation is focused on delivering humanitarian aid to the most affected by the volcanic eruption and on strengthening the local Red Cross' capacity to respond to a potential worsening of the situation.

This operation is expected to be implemented in three months, and will therefore be completed by 18 July, 2008; a Final Report will be made available three months after the end of the operation (by 18 October, 2008).

The situation

Since the year 1550, the Nevado del Huila volcano in the department of Huila has shown constant and moderate volcanic activity. There was an eruptive phase between 1550-1560, affecting the departments of Valle del Cauca, Tolima, Cauca and Huila, and in 1994 an avalanche came down the Paez river, killing 1,000 people. The volcano's crater is approximately 5,400 to 5,700 meters above sea level, and for that reason the surrounding area is not habitable.

At the beginning of the year 2008, the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining (INGEOMINAS) reported that the Nevado del Huila volcano had doubled its volcanic activity compared to the year of 2007, putting at risk approximately 30,000 people. The volcano, located along the Andean mountain range, started an eruptive process on 29 March, 2008, threatening the surrounding communities with mud flows. On 14 April, 2008, authorities began to evacuate people with disabilities and those with chronic illnesses in the municipality of Belalcázar. Common shelters were opened for the displaced people. There were no reports of injuries due to the emergency, but insufficient and inadequate common shelters to house the affected people were reported, as well as insufficient medical supplies and drinking water to attend the evacuated in Belalcázar. The evacuation routes were also affected due to heavy rain, as landslides partially blocked them.

Consequently, local authorities have authorized the procurement of construction materials in order to build shelters and provide adequate signs or billboards which show the safest evacuation routes. This activity will be coordinated by the different presidents of the local communities with local authorities. In addition, authorities will coordinate, together with the state owned company 'Local Hospital' the exact locations where the medical tents in the affected areas will be established.

Reports indicate there is lack of ambulatory care, personnel to perform evacuation activities and an urgent need to strengthen the capacity of the primary response municipal unit.

Moreover, the common shelters and the secure areas do not have potable drinking water, there is no system to treat residual water and there are insufficient non perishable food items to provide to the people during the emergency.

A yellow alert was declared when minor tremors were felt between 7 to 13 May. According to INGEOMINAS, the volcano's main threat is the potential flow of mud towards the Páez and Simbola rivers. The eruption that occurred on 19 February saw mud flow heading towards the Páez river bed.