Background: Venezuela Flood Situation and PAHO Response

The Situation
Venezuela has been battered by heavy rains, floods and mudslides which have left some 200,000 people homeless and as many as 30,000 are feared dead, according to Venezuelan Civil Defense authorities. The Government declared a state of emergency Dec. 16 for seven states (Zulia, Falcon, Yaracuy, Nueva Esparta, Carabobo, Tachira, and Miranda) and the Federal District of Caracas. Many roads and bridges are damaged or destroyed, and flooding and landslides have left many communities isolated. National and international airports serving Caracas are closed to commercial flights. Maiquetia airport in Caracas continues to serve as relief headquarters, containing a triage center and a shuttle stop for internally displaced persons that are being relocated to the interior and to Caracas. More than 10,000 evacuees are sheltered there. Five commissions comprised of scientific and technological experts have been set up to assess the structural, geological, and hydrological situations in the affected zones. Cleanup operations have begun in many areas of Caracas, although some main avenues remain covered in mud.

International Response

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has mobilized its entire office in Caracas, comprising 32 staff members, has brought in additional experts, and is working with Venezuelan authorities to mobilize emergency aid and strengthen health sector coordination. PAHO activated the Humanitarian Supply Management System (SUMA) to classify, sort, inventory and prioritize incoming supplies; three SUMA experts are in Venezuela. PAHO's Representative in Caracas, Dr. Daniel Isaias Gutierrez, is also acting as the resident representative for the entire United Nations system in Venezuela.

PAHO has also mobilized disaster experts from its offices in Colombia to help coordinate activities; a sanitary engineer from Nicaragua to assist in safe water supplies and sanitation; an information expert from Peru; epidemiologists from Colombia to assist in strengthening disease surveillance systems and laboratories; 4 supply management experts from Colombia, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica; and a mental health specialist from Honduras to help provide psychological support to the affected population.

PAHO has an internal emergency task force working with Venezuelan authorities, and has also mobilized an Inter-American System response, comprising agencies in health, finance, development and finance, to respond to the recent flooding.

PAHO has received $200,000 from the U.S. Agency for International Development, $160,000 from the United Kingdom, and set aside an extra $25,000 from its own funds for health sector activities including epidemiological surveillance, sanitation, and safe water and sanitation, funds.

So far as part of the Inter-American System response, the Inter-American Development Bank channeled $50,000 to Venezuela for health, transportation, and other needs, and will redirect $200 million in previously approved loans for use in emergency road building, education, health, and agriculture. The Pan American Development Foundation has mobilized some $75,000 in donations and materials such as tents, blankets and water purification tablets.

The Organization of American States gave $20,000 and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture and the Inter-American Defense Board pledged support.

In addition, other UN agencies are also responding to the disaster.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is focusing its response on the following: medical supplies, first aid and prevention of outbreaks of disease; basic sanitation and hygiene education; and water purification tablets and water tanks to hold fresh water. It will also focus on getting children back to school quickly, providing school supplies and psycho-social rehabilitation for traumatized children. In addition, it will assist in relocating 2,000 indigenous Amerindian families in the state of Zulia.

The World Food Program (WFP) will begin delivering food aid this week to 20,000 of the most vulnerable victims as part of a $200,000 emergency operations plan. WFP will distribute ready-to-eat food, such as high-protein biscuits, because most people do not have access to cooking facilities.

Individual countries have also given or pledged substantial support to Venezuela.

The Pan American Health Organization, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and raise the living standards of their peoples. It serves as the Regional Office of the World Health Organization, and has offices in 27 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as nine scientific and technical centers apart from its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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