The tragedy in Venezuela continues long after the news coverage fades. Two weeks of heavy rain in December 1999, resulted in flash floods, laden with soil, vegetation, and debris, hurling down the Avila mountain range to the coast. Areas where dense and informal urban settlements had sprung up over the years were swept away. Walls of mud and rock, reaching almost 30 feet, smashed into the Vargas area north of Caracas, leaving behind a scene of destruction that mixed images of floods, earthquakes and landslides.
The damage is estimated at U$3.2 billion, or 3.3 percent of the county's GDP. Property and major infrastructure make up about 60 percent of the direct damage. The grimmest effect was the toll on human life, with at least 30,000 lives claimed.
The government responded swiftly, rescuing and evacuating some 120,000 people. About 200,000 people are still living in temporary shelters or with relatives, receiving assistance from local authorities, NGO*s, churches, relief agencies and the military. Thousands of people are still without access to safe water and transportation to some affected areas continues to be a problem.
Two months after the disaster people are returning to their homes looking for their relatives or to rescue some of their belongings still buried in mud. Posters with photos of missing people are widespread in the streets. The majority of the affected people continue to live in the government shelters and they are confident in the response of the government, but it is estimated that the resettlement process will last at least ten months. The situation is less satisfactory for those who preferred to take shelter with their relatives or return to the devastated area and find shelter in the remaining buildings. They are registered as affected but priority is given to people who remain in the shelters and have accepted to move to other regions of the country. Unemployment and psycho-social effects of the disaster are the most difficult problems faced by these people.
In Venezuela an ACT committee was formed by three Churches (Lutheran, Presbyterian and Pentecostal) and two related NGO's (Accion Ecumenica and Cepexsol). Their work until now has been to relieve the immediate effects of the crisis specially for the people sheltering with relatives or in the remaining buildings. A small unit responsible for coordination, advice, finances and reporting has also been created.
ACT Appeal LAVE-01 * Assistance to Flood Victims was issued on 5 January 2000 with a revision on 27 January which has been fully funded. The crisis phase will finish at the end of March and with the assistance of a team from Comision Cristiana del Desarrollo (CCD) Honduras the committee is preparing a proposal for the rehabilitation phase.
Thank you for your attention.
ACT Web Site address: http://www.act-intl.org
ACT is a worldwide network of churches and related agencies meeting human need through coordinated emergency response.
The ACT Coordinating Office is based with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Switzerland.