Venezuela

Venezuela Floods Fact Sheet #10

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Overview of Current Situation

Although the official death toll (based on the body count) remains low, local authorities and unofficial sources estimate that between 25,000 and 50,000 people died and over 600,000 persons were affected since the floods began in December 1999. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) approximately 51,000 persons are in some 107 temporary shelters.

During the first week of January, heavy rains, flooding, and landslides in the state of Tachira destroyed homes, displaced approximately 2,300 people, and closed the international airport. The state of Vargas also received more rain, which caused the collapse of two recently opened bridges over the Macuto and Naiguata rivers. Forecasters in Venezuela have warned of heavy rains in the coming weeks for Caracas, and the states of Vargas and Miranda.

Part of the Port of La Guaira has been declared a Dangerous Chemical Zone by the national authorities, due to the rupture and dislocation of containers of dangerous chemicals. The Venezuelan National Guard has cordoned off the area and the Venezuelan National Emergency Committee (CEN) has formed a working group to deal with the situation.

The director of the National Civil Defense reports mandatory evacuation of people located in high-risk areas in Caracas and along Venezuela's Caribbean coast in response to continuing rain. Already, some 2,000 evacuees have sought shelter in schools and stadiums.

Simon Bolivar International airport in the Caracas metropolitan area has been reopened but transit from Caracas to La Guaira and Maiquetia is still restricted.

Humanitarian agencies and GOV officials report that a lack of potable water and the need for health education (related to water/sanitation) are still the largest problems related to the disaster, especially in the state of Vargas.

The GOV has been able to restore rudimentary passage from the cities of Maiquetia to Naiguata, located approximately half way to Los Caracas. In general, the passage consists of a one-lane track that is in many places muddy, rutted and obstructed by rocks and boulders.

In Naiguata, although there are widespread shortages of food and reports of price gouging, stores are open and supplies are available. Emergency relief convoys reach Naiguata on a periodic basis, bringing a sufficient supply of relief provisions to the area. From Naiguata east to Los Caracas, the population centers are still cut off from overland transportation and limited relief supplies are brought by air and boat.

USG Response

USAID

The USAID/DART is working closely with the Minister of Environment and local experts on managing the critical hazardous material (HAZMAT) situation. USAID/OFDA has fielded a four-person HAZMAT team of experts from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Coast Guard to assist the GOV to prevent further contamination, assess environmental and health impacts, and identify private sector contractors for cleaning up the hazardous material. The HAZMAT team arrived on January 3 for a two-week deployment.

USAID/OFDA will provide the following HAZMAT personal equipment: 25 pairs of chemical protection gloves; 25 pairs of chemical protection boots; 25 full-face emergency escape masks (with 5-10 minute oxygen supply); 25 Tyvek protection suits; one portable HAZMAT decontamination shower unit; and five self-contained breathing apparatus units (with oxygen cylinders) to be used by the Venezuelan HAZMAT team to provide an escape capacity from harmful health effects from contamination at La Guaira.

The USAID/DART team is working with the Venezuelan water authorities (Hidroven) and other organizations to ensure water needs are met in the affected areas. On January 11, USAID/OFDA approved $500,000 in funding to the U.S. Embassy for the purchase, transport, and installation of 65 (10,000-liter) water tanks, 16 portable water-testing kits, 20,000 five-gallon water containers and an electric transformer, as well as rental of water and vacuum trucks. These supplies, consigned to Hidroven, will benefit approximately 200,000 persons in Vargas and Miranda. According to the USAID/DART, the GOV and various relief organizations have made significant progress on developing an overall water strategy.

On January 10, six additional USAID/OFDA-funded water purification units arrived in Caracas. USAID/OFDA has funded a total of nine water purification units.

The USAID/DART purchased 20 (5,000-liter) water bladders locally for consignment to Hidroven for use in the states of Miranda and Vargas.

U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)

DOD continues to assist in the relief operations, with delivery of water storage tanks, relief supplies and transportation of medical teams.

DOD reports that an additional reverse osmosis water purification unit (ROWPU) arrived on January 3, bringing the total number of DOD-funded units in country to seven.

DOD plans to transport two additional ROWPUS to Caracas from Puerto Rico.

International Response

Member states of the Organization for American States (OAS) have allocated an initial $20,000 from its Inter-American Emergency Assistance Fund to help meet immediate needs of flood victims.

The Inter-American Development Bank has allocated $50,000 to the Bank of Venezuela in support of logistics, and has approved the reprogramming of $200 million in loans for potable water distribution, epidemiological surveillance, and health education.

The World Food Program (WFP) will begin an emergency food assistance operation at a total cost of USD 5.1 million in support of 110,000 people in need of food aid. Of the beneficiaries, 65 percent are women and children under five years old. The operation will run from January-May 2000.

Local Response

The Ministry of Health is coordinating health activities in the affected areas and reinforcing epidemiological surveillance in shelters to ensure early detection and diagnosis of health problems.

The Venezuelan Civil Defense and the Venezuelan Red Cross are completing a census of shelters. Information regarding shelters and victims in shelters is available online at www.rce.gov.ve/rce.

Joint National Emergency Committee/Ministry of Foreign Affairs/UN System Information Web site is now operational and may be provisionally accessed through www.nu.org.ve/emergencia.

Public Donations Information

In the interest of effective coordination of public response, USAID encourages the public to contact directly those private voluntary organizations (PVOs) currently working in the region in order to provide monetary donations or to call the USAID hotline at 1-800-872-4373 during normal business hours.

A list of the PVOs may be obtained from the USAID web site at www.info.usaid.gov. The list is composed of PVOs that are registered with USAID and/or listed by InterAction, a coalition of voluntary humanitarian and development organizations that work overseas. InterAction can be contacted at 1-202-667-8227 x106, or via the Internet at www.interaction.org. Those interested in providing specific technical relief services or commodities should contact Volunteers in Technical Assistance's (VITA's) Disaster Information Center for information and guidelines at 703-276-1914.

USAID will not deviate from standard Denton Program procedures for transporting privately-donated relief supplies. USAID will prioritize delivery of essential relief commodities. For more information on the Denton Program, please refer to the USAID website at www.info.usaid.gov/hum_response/pvc/denton.html.

For additional information, please access the Natural Disasters section of ReliefWeb at wwwnotes.reliefweb.int.

Background

Two weeks of unrelenting rain led to flash flooding in northern Venezuela during December. On December 16, the Government of Venezuela declared a State of Emergency for eight states (Zulia, Falcon, Yaracuy, Nueva Esparta, Carabobo, Tachira, Vargas, and Miranda) and the Federal District of Caracas. The states of Miranda and Vargas were particularly hard hit.

On December 16, 1999, the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela declared a flood disaster, thereby enabling the provision of USG humanitarian assistance.

USAID/OFDA dispatched a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) on December 18 to help coordinate response activities and to perform damage and needs assessments.

Total U.S. Government Funding to Date

USAID/OFDA
Action
Funding
Disaster Assistance Authority to the U.S. Embassy for purchase of relief supplies, construction materials, and food. These funds were provided to the Venezuelan Red Cross and the Catholic-Episcopal Conference.
$25,000
Local purchase of medical supplies including 30,000 tetanus vaccines and 4,000 syringes and food.
$200,000
DART support costs
$150,000
Purchase and transport of 100 rolls of plastic sheeting, 5,600 five-gallon water containers, 15,000 wool blankets, ten 3,000-gallon water bladders, and 1,500 body bags. Airlifts arrived December 19 and 20.
$439,604
Purchase and transport of 80 rolls of plastic sheeting, 1,600 five-gallon water containers, 1,600 wool blankets, 6,000 hygiene kits, and medical kits. Airlift arrived on December 23.
$143,558
Funding in support of PAHO's appeal
$200,000
Two water/sanitation engineers technical support
$45,000
Purchase, transport of and technical support for three water purification units
$251,113
Purchase and shipping of 25 pairs of chemical protection gloves; 25 pairs of chemical protection boots; 25 full-face emergency escape masks (with 5-10 minute oxygen supply); 25 Tyvek protection suits; one portable HAZMAT decontamination shower unit; and five self-contained breathing apparatus units.
TBD
Purchase, transport and installation of 65 (10,000-liter) water tanks, 16 portable water testing kits, 20,000 five-gallon water containers and rental of water tanker trucks.
$500,000
Purchase and transport of and technical support for six additional water purification units
$380,944
Funding in support of UNICEF's appeal
$150,000
Total USAID funding to date*
$2,485,219
Total DOD funding to date**
$4,700,000
Total USG funding to date
$7,185,219

* USAID/OFDA is authorized to spend $3 million in response to the Venezuelan floods.
** This funding is from within the $20 million authorized by President Clinton on December 24 in support of DOD humanitarian operations in Venezuela.