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Flooding in Colombia brings destruction and disease

© UNICEF/Colombia/2008/Duran
A child plays in the flooded Magdalena river in Colombia. Due to the flood, septic wells overflowed and contaminated the water.

By Marta Lucía Moreno Carreño

PUERTO CASABE, Colombia, 17 December 2008 – In Puerto Casabe there are 60 families, 98 children, 100 adults and a lot of water. Every year, the majestic Magdalena river floods their wood and brick homes.

The floods damage everything in the village. Septic tanks overflow, contaminating the water that runs through the streets like rivers, and bringing diseases like diarrhoea, colds and dengue fever.

The water brings with it other dangers too, including snakes looking for a dry place to escape from the flood.

"I've lost count of how many I've killed in my house. I don't wait to see if they are poisonous or not, I kill them all," says Miguel, a young man whose modest dream is to get a temporary job in the oil wells near Barrancabermeja.

© UNICEF/Colombia/2008/Duran
In addition to the diseases brought by the floods, children run the risk of poisonous snake attacks when the reptiles enter homes looking for dry places.

A forgotten village

Puerto Casabe is mainly a port for fishermen and boatmen, and many of its residents used to make their living ferrying people from one side of the river to the other. But that was before the bridge between Barrancabermejo and Yondó was built. Today it is a vereda – a small community – whose poverty clashes with the wealth of the oil wells surrounding it.

"The river is life and beauty, and when it's not angry it gives us many fish," says Luz Mary, a fisherwoman from the village. "When everything floods, the gas and electricity go off, and we have to go looking for soggy firewood so we can cook.  Afterwards we're left with the headaches, the itchiness, the colds."

© UNICEF/Colombia/2008/Duran
A young mother carries her son through the flooded streets.

Preventing illness

UNICEF is working to help treat and prevent illnesses among those affected by the flooding. In partnership with the University of Santander, UNICEF has provided humanitarian assistance in health, nutrition and hygiene practices to 4,000 children affected by the emergency throughout the Magdalena Medio region.

Nurses from the Industrial University of Santander are teaching health practices, which is especially appreciated by the villagers. These days, the nurses are among the few people that return to see how they are doing, and they are grateful for the moral support, and for the information the nurses provide about caring for their health and their children, and about hygiene measures they can take in emergency situations.

UNICEF is also distributing water filters and mosquito nets impregnated with repellent to prevent the spread of further disease.



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