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Floods in northern Bolivia in 2008.

Photo: Juan Karita/AP/Scanpix

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New method improves emergency aid

Published: 23 September 2009 Updated: 26 June 2014

The rules for conventional emergency aid are being rewritten as a result of climate change. Potential disasters can be prevented if floods can be predicted. Through UNICEF, Sida has initiated a preventative programme in Bolivia to alleviate the effects of the annual floods.

Bolivia’s rainy season has intensified in recent years, bringing catastrophic consequences to a population already under severe pressure. The floods have devastated major areas of land and the misery continues for some of Bolivia’s poorest population groups long after the water has receded.  

Fredrik Uggla, Sida’s programme officer in La Paz, says that the project has helped to prevent the most catastrophic consequences of the floods and probably saved many people’s lives.

What has Sida’s role been in the project?

“We’re the sole financier, but we were also very active in preparing the programme. Because of the recurrent floods, we were sure that they’d also come in 2008. That’s why we pressured UNICEF to get the programme up and running.”

Can you explain the way of working?

“Normally as a donor, you act reactively to natural disasters, and this tends to cause major logistical problems and delays when these occur. By acting preventatively and stockpiling necessities, UNICEF has been able to improve its ability to react to floods quickly and effectively.”

How are people affected by the recurrent floods?  

“It’s often to do with people who have moved down from Bolivia’s mountain areas to the lowlands to find better possibilities for cultivation. The problem is that the safest places are already occupied. As a result, they settle in unstable areas that are close to rivers, where they are much more vulnerable.

“There has been huge devastation. Last year, for example, we saw pictures of tens of thousands of cows lying drowning and then rotting away on the farmlands. The problem doesn’t disappear when the water recedes. Arable land and pastures are often destroyed, which has catastrophic consequences.”

Is a pre-determined focus, in this case children, justified in a disaster situation?

“I think so because children are a group that tends to suffer even more in disasters like these. They have particular needs and are especially vulnerable, on two different levels. From a purely medical perspective, they cope with waterborne infections far worse. And it’s also important that these disasters don’t become too much of a psychological burden for the children, as there has to be some sort of continuity in their lives. For that reason, we have, for example, made sure that there have been schools in tents so that the children can continue their lives with some degree of normality.”

What have been the effects of the climate changes?

“With the climatological phenomenon that we’re seeing in the world today, we’re noticing that more and more countries are suffering from recurrent floods. Changes in the Pacific Ocean’s currents are leading to the “El Niño” and “La Niña” phenomenon, which are having enormous consequences on the climate in Bolivia; the rainy season occurs at a different time and has become more intensive.”

Do you think that this way of working will also have an impact in other places?

“We’re hoping that UNICEF and others will adopt this both at a global level as well as regionally in South America, of course. Many poor countries suffer recurrent natural disasters, such as droughts and floods, which makes this not only a possible, but also a necessary way to act.”

Page owner: Department for Europe and Latin America

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