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When disasters and conflicts collide: Colombia

Source(s):  Overseas Development Institute (ODI)
Thomson Reuters Foundation, (TRF)

Displaced by fighting then by mudslides, Colombians struggle to rebuild

Luz Alba Ortiz sobbed, her head in her hands, as she recalled the day her parents were washed away in a deluge of mud that hit the Colombian rainforest town of Mocoa two years ago.

Mudslides triggered by torrential rains in March 2017 killed more than 300 people and left hundreds missing in Mocoa.

Community leaders put the combined toll of the dead and missing, many of them children, at around 1,000, in the worst disaster to hit Colombia in recent decades.

Ortiz, now 28, lost both parents, her sister, baby niece and brother-in-law in the disaster, while she and her daughter narrowly escaped the neck-high torrent of mud and rocks, clinging to shelter on higher ground.

"There was nothing more do to than hug each other, pray, and ask God for forgiveness," said Ortiz, standing next to the rubble of her family home that was destroyed in the disaster.

For Ortiz, and many other families living in Mocoa, the horrific mudslide was only the latest in a string of losses in a country riven by both armed conflict and worsening weather disasters.

Ortiz's family fled to Mocoa in 2002 after leaving a nearby rural area where guerilla violence was making life too risky.

But with little cash to restart their lives, they settled in an area with new risks - this time from heavy rain and mudslides linked to climate change.

Around the world, many families are facing the same pressures, fleeing one crisis only to find themselves facing a different one, researchers say.

Ortiz now lives in one of 300 new homes constructed for property owners who lost theirs in the disaster - part of a larger rebuilding effort in Mocoa, the rainy and humid capital of Colombia's southern province of Putumayo, in the Amazon basin.

But two years after the disaster, the town's mayor, Jose Antonio Castro, says roughly half of Mocoa's 40,000 people still live in areas that are at risk of flooding and mudslides, while new flood prevention measures have yet to be built.

"We are only just starting to recover a little, which in this case means giving houses to the victims who suffered in the tragedy and lost their families and their possessions," Castro told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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  • Publication date 08 May 2019

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