Colombia

Floods create a ‘ghost town’, putting young lives on hold in Córdoba, Colombia

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Colombia/2007/Nieto
Floodwaters overrun the small town of Palo de Agua in the Córdoba department of Colombia.

By Vanessa Molina

PALO DE AGUA, Colombia 23 October 2007 – From the highway connecting Cereté with Lorica, you can begin to see how flooding has affected this zone of the Department of Córdoba. Although the trunks of the coconut palms remain standing, what used to be fertile land looks like a swamp.

Since the flooding began with the year’s first rainy season months ago, the streets of Palo de Agua have been passable only by boat. Two of the three local school buildings have been inundated, and the third is being used as a shelter.

To reach Palo de Agua and its approximately 1,200 inhabitants, you have to cross the river on a ferry raft built with support from the Diocese of Montería to facilitate access to the community. Upon reaching the town, you find a road made of sacks of sand and stones leading to one of the few parts of Palo de Agua that are not covered by water.

School suspended

A bit of land that looks like an island is the entrance to the town. This has become the main gathering place for local residents, including young people, since the flooding began. It is here that Jerson and Hugo, two 16-year-old students, spend the afternoons now that school has been suspended.

Before the floods, Jerson and Hugo were preparing to take the state examination for admission to higher education. Since the year’s second rainy season is expected to intensify in the coming months, it’s possible that school will not reopen in time to make up for the class time they have missed.

Jerson wants to study for a degree in the hotel and tourism field, and has plans to attend university in Montería when he graduates from secondary school. Hugo wants to study chemistry.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Colombia/2007/Nieto
Sandbags are stacked in an attempt to hold back flooding in Palo de Agua.

Waiting for improvement

However, the floodwaters have put their plans on hold – because beyond their difficulties in passing the state test and finishing the school year, the economic situation for all the inhabitants of Palo de Agua is critical.

The town’s sewage system has collapsed completely, its water quality is deficient, food is scarce and it is impossible to work in agriculture, one of the area’s main economic activities.

Jerson and Hugo do not have much hope for the situation to improve. Like the town’s other residents, they have no other option than to wait for the days to pass.

The afternoon advances, and the desolation that marks the town in daytime is accentuated by the fall of night. In the darkness, Palo de Agua takes on the appearance of a ghost town that could disappear at any moment.

Aid for flood victims

Still, some relief is in sight for the flood-ravaged towns and villages of Córdoba.

In alliance with Oxfam and the Colombian Red Cross, UNICEF is working to ensure safe water supplies and sanitation systems for affected families and communities. A total of 27,000 people are expected to be reached by this intervention.

Meanwhile, shelters for hundreds of displaced families – most of them in schools, like the shelters in Palo de Agua – have received assistance from UNICEF and its partners to improve their safe-water storage capacity.

UNICEF is also supporting a birth registration campaign (to protect children’s eligibility for basic services) and health and nutrition initiatives for flood victims, as well as providing them with emergency education, recreation and hygiene kits – all in an effort to give hope for the future to young people caught in Colombia’s flood crisis.


 

 

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