Severe flooding and landslides caused by torrential rains across Bolivia in recent weeks have raised the death toll since the start of the rainy season in October 2013 to 38 people, according to the Bolivian government. Heavy rains prompted the government of President Evo Morales to declare a state of emergency on 27 January 2014, following widespread flooding in one of South America’s poorest countries.
More than 44,000 households in 113 municipalities have been affected by the heavy seasonal rains, around five times more than the previous rainy season, with the central and northern regions of the country hardest hit. Rains have also damaged numerous roads and bridges, as well as some 700 homes, and have led to the closure of 303 schools, Bolivian authorities say.
The number of families affected by flooding rose in one day from 39,722 to 44,242, according to a report by the Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra on 6 February. He added that the country’s armed forces were taking the lead in helping teams of doctors and supplies of food and medical aid reach communities worst hit by the flooding, including Cochabamba, a province southeast of the capital La Paz, and Beni, an area criss-crossed by Amazon tributaries.
In Cochabamba 18,200 families were affected with at least 2,000 of them homeless, and in Beni more than 4,000 families were affected.
Shelters have been set up in schools and the exhibition centre in Trinidad, the capital of Beni, to house people evacuated from the lowlands. Several families, especially labourers, have however chosen to stay in tents on the side of the road, near the Mamore River.
Saavedra said that the level of the Mamore River is being monitored by the Bolivian army, especially near Comiaco, and if there is any danger of flooding, this will be reported “immediately” to the people, in order to allow evacuation of families in the most threatened areas.
The Bolivian Air Force (FAB) is ferrying humanitarian aid to the municipalities of Rurrenabaque, Yacuma Santa Rosa, San Borja and San Ignacio de Moxos, while a Bolivian navy vessel has left Trinidad with 40 tons of food and supplies.
Floodwaters are also threatening about 100,000 head of cattle and some 6,000 hectares of crops have been destroyed, around 0.2 per cent of Bolivia’s total, the government said.
Forecasters are predicting more heavy rainfall with the north of the Andean country again likely to be the worst affected. Beni’s emergency centre director, Luis Phillips, warned residents that more heavy rainfall is expected for the provincial capital, Trinidad, on Friday or Saturday.
The rainy season in Bolivia usually lasts until March.