Incessant rains in what is one of the driest regions in the country have affected tens of thousands of lives in the northern regions of La Guajira.
The heavy rains started this month and have resulted in large floods that have affected 64,565 people across four municipalities, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The bulk of those affected live in the municipality of Uribia where approximately 12,697 families are currently facing the effects of the floods.
OCHA noted that 91 percent of the population in Uribia have indigenous heritage–from the local Wayúu tribes–and are at greatest risk of further flooding. The downpour has also affected local children with many unable to attend schools as roads have been submerged and access has been severely restricted.
Given La Guajira’s proximity to the Venezuelan border, the calamity caused in the region has added to the growing instability and the strain on resources caused by the Venezuelan economic crisis. In Riohacha, 43 percent of the families affected were from Venezuela. According to Migracíon Colombia, around 10 percent of all registered Venezuelans in Colombia live in the department of La Guajira.
In response, local authorities have declared an emergency and there remains many roadblocks in ensuring those most affected can be served. Food supplies, nutrition, security and the loss of livelihoods are now the top priorities for relief agencies.
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President Duque was in Uribia last weekend and spoke of the evacuations conducted and food aid that was being delivered to the flood-stricken regions. During his 11th town hall meeting (Construyendo Pais), Duque spoke of the importance of improving water coverage and his belief that new investment into renewable energy projects could be centered in the region. “In the next 4 years we will develop at least 14 renewable energy projects. And the epicenter of this ambitious program will be La Guajira . It is the fastest expansion of clean energy that has been made in Colombia” the President said.
La Guajira is known for its arid desert climate that can be harnessed for both solar and wind energy. However, vital resources and government services for locals are scarce and water shortages are frequent in the region. Just yesterday, the Constitutional Court directed the Attorney General’s Office to ensure the communities’ rights to potable water were protected, as per a similar judgment in 2017 where it was held that “a massive and widespread violation of the fundamental rights of the children of the Wayúu people” had occurred.