Thousands harmed in major Bolivian floods

The Bolivian government recently announced a state of national emergency after months of heavy rain caused severe flooding and landslides, devastating thousands of families. People, their homes, and chunks of land have been swept away by the increasing flash floods.

And it’s not about to stop.

“Several rural towns in the Cochabamba Department are practically submerged in water,” César Pérez, an environmental engineer in Santa Cruz, told The Guilfordian in an email. “Agriculture, livestock and even human lives are gone.

“In the Beni Department, many losses were registered,” said Pérez. “A total of 38 human lives were lost and more than 44,200 families were affected.”

Mario G. Aranibar, the national coordinator of search and rescue in Bolivia, told The Guilfordian that although floods have occurred in the past, Bolivia was ill-prepared to respond.

Ninety percent of recovery efforts were initiated by volunteer units with little to no support from the state.

“We resort to using army soldiers with little or no training in disaster response,” said Aranibar in an email. “Of course, they do not have the right equipment, and instead of being a help, they increase risk, since they risk their lives.”

Not only has there been an inadequate response to the disaster, but news of the devastation caused by flooding has been under reported in the media.

“I was watching the news and CNN was covering what tree the president was going to pick, while I was reading newspapers from Bolivia and seeing people really suffering in my country,” said junior Ines Sanchez De Lozada.

“I think it’s about which story sells, and the Christmas tree always sells.”

With Bolivia having its fair share of lowlands and valleys in addition to mountainous terrain, post-flood issues have also been a source of concern.

“This does not end here,” said Aranibar. “Post-disaster, a series of epidemics and diseases will come and cause more deaths. That’s what comes next.”

Some, like Pérez, have begun to speculate about a connection between the flooding and climate change.

“I witnessed extreme cold a couple of weeks ago in the U.S.,” said Pérez. “Last year, Egypt received snow after almost 100 years. Now, in Bolivia, the unusually heavy rain is affecting the whole country.

“The worst part is that the climate change is most affecting the poor,” Pérez continued. “Thousands of families depend on agriculture and livestock production to survive. Climate change is affecting the weather stability that these families need.”

Twenty-one thousand Bolivians are homeless as of Feb. 10, and that number is still rising.

“We have a saying about how in January, it is going to rain,” said Sanchez De Lozada. “But in February, the rain is going to wash us away.”

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