Colombias disastrous floods make clear world isn’t prepared for catastrophic climate change

President Santos: “The tragedy the country is going through has no precedents in our history”

JR:  Sadly for Colombia, the possibility that the U.S. would take notice of their Biblical flooding has been greatly diminished by the uber-flooding of the Mississippi River along with the “truly exceptional” tornado outbreaks and Texas drought/wildfires.  And this offers a grim look at the future if the world doesn’t act fast to reduce emissions and set up a global adaptation fund using some of the resulting revenues:  While record-breaking deluges and droughts will increasingly slam the developing world in the future, necessitating outside assistance, the rest of the world itself will be very busy dealing with its own ever worsening extreme events, along with sea level rise, Dust-Bowlification, and the like.  We must all hang together — or we will surely all hang separately.

For an update on Colombia, here’s a guest post by Alice Thomas, Climate Displacement Program Manager at Refugees  International

Unprecedented rain that has hammered Colombia over the past year has affected three million people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. In March, I spent three weeks traveling across the Caribbean region visiting families displaced by the floods. The alarming conditions I encountered more than three months since President Santos declared a state of emergency are described in a new report by Refugees International entitled, “Surviving Alone: Improving Assistance to Colombia’s Flood Victims.”

In the town of Manat­ in Atl¡ntico Department I was greeted by the Iraida, an Afro-Colombian mother of four who leads a local women’s organization. “Today we don’t have a glass of water to drink,” Iraida tells me. “The water truck has not come to distribute water. It comes every eight days.” She explains that water rations are not sufficient to allow her to bathe her baby and provide enough water for the other four members of her family.

Watch a personal account from Iraida and her husband:

Iraida points to her house, which is submerged except for the tops of the windows and roof. “We had a store, a business. We took out a loan and now we are unable to pay the bank. We need food, water, clothes – yes, even clothes because we have lost everything.”

Tragically, her story was similar to dozens of others I heard in Atl¡ntico, C³rdoba, Bol­var, Sucre and Magdelana Departments. Flood victims received some basic aid during the height of the floods in December; many had been encouraged by news that the government had launched a multi-media campaign to raise flood aid. But more than three months later, what little assistance they had received was tapering off, leaving them to survive on their own. As described in the report, an uncoordinated, bureaucratic process set up by the Colombian government to distribute millions of dollars in flood relief was severely hindering the provision of emergency humanitarian assistance. According to a recent report by the Colombian General Accountability Office, only half of the flood aid has been distributed to date.

In 2010 alone, 300 million people across the globe were affected by natural disasters, the majority of which were climate-related, including 182 floods that affected 180 million people “” almost double the annual average for the last decade.

As I write this blog two months after visiting Manat­, persistent rains and ongoing flooding in Colombia continue to displace hundreds of thousands of people, and record-breaking flooding along areas of the Mississippi River inundate vast swaths of land in the southeast United States. In all the debate over whether the increase in the frequency and force of climate-related disasters is a portent of things to come or evidence that climate change already is occurring, I am left wondering whether policy makers, in their quest for scientific certainty, have missed the point. I am left questioning the wisdom of continuing to view today’s extreme events as unforeseen occurrences for which no one is responsible, as acts of God or nature, as risks that cannot be managed.

It is starkly evident that neither national governments nor the humanitarian community are prepared to respond to the increasing pressure that climate variability is bringing to bear not only on some of the world’s poorest and most crisis-prone countries, but also on a humanitarian system that is already over-stressed and woefully underfunded. The discussion must therefore focus on prevention, protection, and the underlying factors that render people vulnerable to begin with like poverty, weak social protection networks, lack of preparedness and the weak capacity of local governments to respond quickly and in an accountable manner.

—  Alice Thomas. Read her original, extended post at Refugees International.  H/t WonkRoom

JR: Here’s more background.  Colombia has been hit by “11 months of nearly nonstop rain” displacing over 3 million people.  Meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters has details:

“Some parts of the country have been set back 15 to 20 years”, said Plan’s Country Director in Colombia, Gabriela Bucher. “Over the past 10 months we have registered five or six times more rainfall than usual,” said the director of Colombia’s weather service, Ricardo Lozano. Up to 800 mm (about 32 inches) of rain has fallen along the Pacific coast of Colombia over the past two weeks (Figure 3). The severe spring flooding follows on the heels of the heaviest fall rains in Colombia’s History. Weather records go back 42 year in Colombia. Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos said, “the tragedy the country is going through has no precedents in our history.”

“¦ See also my December 2010 post, Heaviest rains in Colombia’s history trigger deadly landslide.

15 Responses to Colombias disastrous floods make clear world isn’t prepared for catastrophic climate change

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks for the details, which are not available in MSM. Not only do our major news organizations vociferously deny any connection to global warming, their coverage of massive flooding in Columbia, Australia, and Pakistan has been cursory.

    We could argue with them about this hole in the “news”, but I suspect it’s because reports of record wild weather do not please their advertisers. The United States no longer has a free press, and corporate monitoring and control of content is not much better than totalitarian authorship.

    New media companies are going to have to render ponderous and sclerotic media giants such as Newscorp, Viacom, and GE irrelevant. The outlets are going to have to be Web based channels and edgy cable shows, along with high quality blogs and internet magazines such as this one. If they depend on advertising, they should be selective, and avoid customers such as Ford, the US Marine Corps, and Exxon. They will find willing clients such as Apple and new energy companies.

  2. Eduardo (Colombia) says:

    Hello Joe,

    You know something sad…in late august when this problems start, Bjørn Lomborg came to Colombia to make his presentation downplaying the effects of climate change…and a lot of Colombian respected business man went to this conference and believed all the lies he says…I think is a good time to remind Lomborg that if we keep his suggestion Colombia and a lot of developing countries will suffer a lot in the future.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    What is more, that decentralized easy to setup and maintain energy generation and infrastructure with low impact in disaster time, is a necessity to sustain law and order.

    This is one of the reasons why the electric vehicle within an energy-2-grid framework solution is so important to establish.

  4. Do you know of any satellite imagery that would enable people to get a handle on the flooding in Columbia? I can only find stuff from the 2005 flooding.


  5. Lee says:

    Some good news from the MSM world, the Boston Globe lead editorial was titled “In a season of violent weather, prepare, protect — and prevent”

    After discussing the various world wide violent weather events it concluded with:

    “In policy debates about environmental issues, evidence of extreme weather is often dismissed as fleeting anecdotes. But it is hard to ignore the cumulative impact of science, technology, and experience. Last week, an expert panel assigned by Congress in 2008 to recommend ways to deal with climate change provided a sobering analysis of what is at stake: Every ton of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere not only drives up the earth’s temperature, causing potentially disruptive weather events, but raises the cost of taking action later on.”

    “Call it global warming, global weirding, or just a really freaky weather year. If we don’t begin to address the underlying causes of all this killer weather, 2011 may just be the beginning of a very dangerous new normal.”

    The full editorial is at:

  6. Joan Savage says:

    Thanks for global perspective and thanks personally, as due to a family relationship, I am now related to Colombians and take great interest in what happens there.

    I haven’t caught if Joe Romm has had a chance to review the research coming out about the latitude shift in the tropical rain band that is affecting Colombia. (See ITCZ, intertropical convergence zone.)

    Note that with mudslides, flooding and persistent rains, a rescue can depend on the intermittent clear-enough weather conditions that allow helicopters to operate. Roads are not available. Overcast conditions are a problem for both helicopters and satellite pictures, but it might be useful to see the persistence of cloud cover anyway.

    I have to wonder if the major damage to the Colombian coffee plantations will finally prompt more American awareness. Cynical thought.

    Some news reports from along the time line:

    Nov 2010 Floods and mudslides overwhelmed rescue efforts.

    Dec 2010 The $150 million World Bank line of credit to Colombia for estimated 2 million people affected. The line of credit was under the Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option (Cat DDO) loan, which functions as a line of credit to provide countries with immediate access to financing following a natural disaster.

    Jan 2011 ICRC identified 23000 directly affected by flooding.

    April 2011 More flooding
    “Heavy rains that battered Colombia this month have so far left 67 dead, 36 wounded and eight missing, while another 98,000 were injured and 183 homes were destroyed.

    That brings the total this year to 90 dead, 15 missing and 208,581 people affected by the disaster, according to the Interior and Justice Ministry.

    The heavy rains, triggered by the La Nina weather phenomenon, have caused damage in 28 of the country’s 32 departments, and have blocked 16 major roads due to landslides. Some have collapsed entirely.

    More than 900,000 hectares (2.22 million acres) of land have been ravaged by rising rivers that overflowed, according to government figures. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’s government has provided victims $176 million in aid.”

  7. George Ennis says:

    @Eduardo (Columbia)

    These respected business men may be experiencing cognitive dissonance between their political, social and financial beliefs and the facts of extreme weather events related to climate change all around them. What these business people will most likely do as the facts of climate change are more evident is actually strengthen their belief system that climate change. For them to accept climate change as real would require them to alter their belief system. In essence they likely to double down on their bet that climate change is not happening. This is counter-intuitive, perverse and certainly a poor adaptation or survival strategy but people will cling to their belief systems regardless of what the facts say otherwise.

  8. English Mark says:

    Stiglitz has pointed out the perils of our gambling mentality in a good article here

  9. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    I sold my house a few years ago and have been thinking about replacing it and becoming stable again, getting my stuff out of storage.

    I’m now leaning towards an old Airstream and pickup so I can continue to be mobile. I think it’s the wave of the future. I outran a mega storm a year ago because I was camping in a tent and could quickly get out. It caused major damage where I had been.

    It may sound foreign to some, but I’m beginning to think the future will be easier for those who can move at will (as long as we can afford the gas). I know some things you really can’t run from, but wildfire smoke is one you can, as well as a lot of the big weather events.

    Shades of the Great Depression – the Great Climate Change (though really not so great).

  10. Colorado Bob says:

    Oklahoma –
    Monday rainfall totals (in inches):
    Vinita: 9.67
    Ottawa: 7.94
    Jay: 4.7
    Webbers Falls: 3.36
    South Cherokee County: 2.65
    North Cherokee County: 2.54

    Source: Joe Sellers, Tulsa National Weather Service

  11. Colorado Bob says:

    House Panel Votes to Send FEMA $1B for Tornado, Flood Response

    He offered his own amendment that would restore cuts to FEMA’s state and local programs as well as Firefighter Assistance Grants. The current bill for 2012 cuts that money by 55 percent below what is law now. It’s 70 percent below fiscal year 2010.

    Read more:

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    Montana –
    The mountains outside Lodge Grass received 8.4 inches of rain over a four-day period ending Sunday. Other parts of the state received from almost 2 inches to more than 6 inches of rain.

    Read more:
    The models call for 2 to 6 more inches in the coming days , with the rain moving West onto areas with snow pack.

  13. Joan Savage says:

    The hillside and road collapses in Colombia after months of continued rainfall should be kept in mind when monitoring the stability of the Mississippi levee system over the next weeks and months. Colorado Bob’s posts (#10, #12) about extreme rainfall are for watersheds of tributaries of the Mississippi.

  14. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Hanging together. Let’s hope the developing nations can gather even further strength and team up with the various indigenous movements such as Pachamama to force a deal through the UN. We needed a workable, international agreement years ago but right now will do. It may sound tough but recalcitrant nations should just be ignored and left to drown, burn and blow away on their own, ME

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Colombia is a militarised state, a favourite of the USA under its previous President Uribe. The new President has surprised by making friendly overtures to that daemon Chavez of Venezuela. The USA has invested billions in ‘Plan Colombia’, but it was mostly for military purposes, the immensely destructive and pointless ‘War on Drugs’ and for the establishment of twelve new US military bases (joining over one thousand spread in every corner of the planet). The real priorities of all US regimes, Obama’s actually rather more than most, are pretty easy to discern.