Colombia in mourning after Niño-linked disaster

Colombia is mourning after the tragic landslide that took place in Mocoa, capital of Putumayo department, during the night of March 31, when 17 neighborhoods were flooded with mud and rocks, and five were completely buried. The disaster resulted as the Mocoa, Mulato and Sangoyaco rivers burst their banks amid torrential rains. At least 238 people are reported dead, with rescue teams still digging through rubble. With no electricity in the stricken city, hospitals running short on blood and medicines to attend to the hundreds of injured survivors. President Juan Manuel Santos has activated the National Risk Management System, and authorized the "declaration of calamity" issued by Putumayo department.

The department of Putumayo, located on the border with Ecuador and Peru, has been a strategic area for Colombia's armed conflict. Drug trafficking, the presence of non-state armed groups, illegal mining, a high index of poverty (79% by 2014) and high vulnerability to "natural" disasters (50 in only four years, between 2011 and 2015) are some of the major challenges facing a population of 349,537 people, with 49% concentrated in departmental capital Mocoa.

Intense rains from this year's "abnormal" El Niño weather pattern that have caused widespread destruction across Peru, prompting Colombia's meteorlogical institute IDEAM to issue a flood warning for this country's largest river, the Magdalena. (UNDP via ReliefWeb, April 3; The City Paper, Bogotá, April 2)