Bolivia floods affect 150,000 people as rains continue -reports

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 4 February 2014 16:30 GMT

This Jan 31, 2008 file photo shows a goose in the flooded town of Vinto, near Cochabamba, Bolivia. REUTERS/Danilo Balderrama

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Heavy rains, which started in November last year, prompted President Evo Morales' government to declare a national emergency on Jan. 27

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Severe flooding and landslides caused by torrential rains across Bolivia in recent weeks have killed at least 45 people and disrupted the lives of 150,000 people, according to the Bolivian government.

Heavy rains, which started in November last year, prompted President Evo Morales' government to declare a national emergency on Jan. 27, following widespread flooding in one of South America's poorest countries.

In the worst-affected regions in northern and central Bolivia, rivers have burst their banks causing farms and homes to be submerged under flood waters. Swathes of corn, wheat and potato crops have been washed away and families made homeless are camping out in schools which have been turned into temporary shelters.

Defence Minister Ruben Saavedra said the country's armed forces were taking the lead in helping teams of doctors and supplies of food and medical aid reach communities worst hit by the flooding including Cochabamba, a province southeast of the capital La Paz, and Beni, an area crisscrosed by Amazon tributaries.

"Families need to be seen to. Humanitarian aid will continue to arrive in Beni that consists of blankets, mattresses, food and medicine, which is getting there by air, as well as by road. We have the capacity to attend to the needs of all those families affected," Saavedra was quoted as saying in Bolivia's El Razon newspaper earlier this week.

But the death toll and widespread disruption have renewed calls for local authorities to boost and increase spending on flood prevention measures, such as unblocking drains and ensuring homes are not built on flood-prone areas.

As torrential rains are expected to continue to batter parts of the Andean nation until mid-March, there is an increased risk of disease outbreaks, such as dengue and malaria, along with more cases of diarrhoea and skin and respiratory infections, Bolivia's health ministry has said.

Downpours have also damaged roads, bridges, around 700 homes and led to the closure of 303 schools, Bolivian authorities say.

The latest flooding is not the first time landlocked Bolivia has had to grapple with increasingly intense and unpredictable rainfall linked to climate change, experts say. 

In early 2013, Bolivia experienced its worst floods in over 20 years, according to the Bolivian Red Cross.

Critics of the government's response to recurring flooding say more needs to be done to better prepare the country to cope with extreme weather.

"This is a story we hear year after year and it seems we still haven't learnt and haven't wanted to get the message that nature is giving us," wrote guest columnist Elizabeth Vargas, in Bolivia's Opinion newspaper.

"If these situations, aggravated by climate change, are now part of our reality, every municipality and local government should have at least early alert systems, contingency plans and climate adaptation plans in place," she added.



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