Natural Disaster in Colombia Impacts Population Already Displaced by Violence


The temporary modular family unit is quick and easy to set up, can house a family of 5-6, and can be expanded by adding additional modules. The unit includes an ecologically safe latrine, shower and sink until an more permanent sewage system can be set up. Water tanks are included to capture rainwater.

The department of Santander, Colombia has a population slightly in excess of 2 million and is home to 66,500 IDPs, those who have been internally displaced due to the ongoing violence in the region. Bucaramanga (population 568,000) is the capital of the department and is one of six Colombian cities with a large IDP presence in which PAHO/WHO maintains a field office. These field offices (also in Cali, Soacha, Medellin, Montería and Pasto) help to assess and improve access to health services, strengthen coordination among all actors working in health—government, NGOs, bilateral and UN agencies, etc.—and document and disseminate information on the impact of displacement on public health.

In February 2005, an already difficult situation was compounded by serious flooding and landslides, particularly in the municipalities of Bucaramanga and Giron in the department of Santander. On 9 February, rainfall continued unabated for more than 12 hours and caused the Oro and Frio Rivers to overflow their banks, flooding nearby settlements, particularly those housing the internally displaced population. Just as municipal authorities were activating their emergency response plans, a second disaster struck. Two days later, heavy rainfall and rising flood levels caused much more dangerous and severe landslides and avalanches, affecting a much broader area. An Emergency Operations Center was set up to conduct a detailed census of the affected population, initiate an epidemiological surveillance system, prepare recommendations to prevent disease outbreaks and serve as a repository for data collected. The SUMA system was set up to track incoming relief supplies and basic sanitation equipment was made available. As a result of early intervention measures, no serious public health problems occurred in the affected municipalities.

The most pressing need is to relocate the families still living in shelters and camps. PAHO has developed a prototype for low-cost, healthy housing as a temporary solution, with a view toward making it more permanent. Municipal authorities have welcomed the proposal and are discussing its adoption. A prototype model has been constructed to familiarize the affected population with the design and to estimate actual construction costs. Read the after-action report (Spanish only) of the floods in Santander at

Health and Displaced in Colombia

PAHO’s Country Office in Colombia recently published the series Health and Displacement in Colombia, in collaboration with the School of Public Health at the University of Antioquia. The series of 13 modules present sociodemographic and epidemiological information on the displaced population in six urban areas of Colombia. A separate foldout chart provides basic health indicators. The first module compares these health indicators between the displaced and resident population. Among the findings: more than half of the IDP homes are headed by women; in general, illiteracy rates among IDPs are three times the national average; and only two of every 100 children aged 1-4 years of age have completed their vaccination scheme. Both the first module—which contains an executive summary in English—and an accompanying annex can be downloaded in PDF format from the Health and Displacement—Colombia and Neighboring Countries website:


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