The Northern department of Cordoba, one of the areas most affected by poverty and emergency in Colombia, has suffered several major flooding events in recent memory. On 11 July 2007, the Directorate for Disaster Preparedness and Management declared a state of public calamity for 13 of the 28 municipalities in the department, after the first of two rainy seasons caused widespread flooding when the San Jorge and Sinu river levels rose significantly. Over 14,000 families from 19 municipalities in the department of Cordoba were affected.
Colombia is particularly exposed to the effects of climate change, with unpredictable weather events occurring frequently in recent years. In particular the rainy season has become more intense, leading to increased frequency and intensity of flooding. This is due in part to the occurrence of the “La Niña” phenomenon which has led to heavy rains and potential flooding and landslides in the Caribbean and Andean regions of Colombia over the past year. In addition, the Rio Sinu hydroelectric project was completed in 2007. In 2010 the dam reached its highest capacity and due to having to release the pressure, flooding took place in surrounding areas. Locally, changes in land use as the region develops could also be a factor. Landowners draining swamp lands and building “camiones” (retention walls) to allow for cattle grazing, reduces important infiltration and stormwater retention zones.
While access to water and sanitation in Colombia in urban areas is good by most standards, in rural areas coverage is less favorable: by 2002, in rural areas water supply coverage was at 71% and sanitation coverage was at 54% . Across the country, sanitation remains poor in areas where flooding occurs and cases of acute diarrhoea, respiratory infections, dengue and malaria are rising.
When the flooding in Cordoba occurred in 2007, access to water and drainpipe systems which were already in a poor state, became critically damaged. Many traditional water sources such as wells and tanks for rainwater storage were destroyed, and many people would access water from unprotected sources such as lagoons or rivers. Furthermore, both in rural and urban areas flooding has led to the overflow of septic tanks and the subsequent breakdown of latrines.