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Flooding of several rivers in South America, including the Uruguay, Paraguay and Paraná, continues to affect thousands across the four countries of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
The Uruguay, Paraguay and Paraná Rivers began to overflow in late December 2015 after a period of unusually heavy rain, blamed on El Niño. Since then over 120,000 people have been forced from their homes.
Limited Damage Assessments
Civil defence and relief agencies are finding it difficult to carry out full damage assessments.
In a report on their Floods Emergency Plan of Action for Argentina (PDF) , the Red Cross (IFRC) say that at the moment, there is “no quantifiable information regarding damage to structures or loss of dwellings” in affected areas of Argentina, as water levels differ between neighbourhoods, ranging from 50 cm to 2.20 metres deep, and are causing damage to buildings in the area.
European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) report that there are still large rural areas in the central parts of Paraguay that have not been assessed for flood damage due to the difficulty of access, particularly in Concepción and Presidente Hayes departments.
El Nino Rains Expected to Continue
The current flood disaster in South America involves three major rivers and their tributaries, running through four different countries. Flooding is affecting many remote and, as a result of flood water, inaccessible areas of the four countries. River levels have risen to dramatic levels, pushed by unusually heavy rains brought by El Niño, which have fallen in widespread river catchment areas. IFRC have called the floods:
“one of the most complex floods in history”
In their report on the current flood situation in Argentina, IFRC say that “the El Niño phenomenon has driven the rains in South America, and their distribution closely matches the El Niño forecasts”. The report adds that it is expected that flooding will continue through January 2016 and into early February in the coast of Argentina, as well as in and around the Paraná, Paraguay and Uruguay rivers
ECHO says that the next months are forecast to continue to be critical by National Meteorological Agencies, as the rains will continue due to El Niño, and will be joined by seasonal autumn rains expected for April.
In Argentina, around 20,000 people have been evacuated as a result of the flooding since late December 2015. The provinces of Entre Rios, Corrientes and Chaco are the worst affected and the floods have been blamed for at least 6 deaths. IFRC say that in Concordia the Uruguay River reached its highest level in 50 years.
At the peak of the floods, more than 13,500 people were displaced in the province of Entre Ríos, mostly in Concordia. Since then levels of the Uruguay and Paraná have fallen. As of 06 January 2015, around 11,000 people remained displaced in Concordia, Entre Ríos province, and around 8,000 in Corrientes Province.
Further Flooding in Santa Fe, Chaco and Salta
Santa Fe province has escaped the widespread flooding affecting other states. However, yesterday local civil defence authorities in Rosario warned that the Paraná River continues to rise and is expected to reach its peak next week. Some families have been evacuated as a result.
Flooding has also affected more areas of Chaco province in the last 2 days. Flooding of the Paraná River in Chaco province has affected the municipalities of Barranqueras, Puerto Bermejo, General Vedia, Las Palmas and Isla del Cerrito since late December. As of 07 January, at least 6,000 people remained displaced according to the province’s ministry of social development.
However, since then, civil defence authorities have carried out further evacuations. On 11 January, a further 112 families were evacuated in Puerto Bermejo after flooding the the Paraguay River.
Puerto Bermejo is about 50 km downriver from Pilar in Paraguay, an area of grave concern for that country’s emergency authorities, such is the flood threat there. The latest reports say that levels of the Paraguay in Pilar are still above the danger mark (see below).
Puerto Bermejo sits close to the point where the Bermejo River meets the Paraguay. Further upstream, the Bermejo River has been causing flood problems for communities in Salta Province. Authorities there have evacuated 260 people in towns in northern Salta province after the Bermejo River overflowed. Reports say that the increased river levels were a result o heavy rain in catchment areas in Bolivia.
Meanwhile the flood situation in Uruguay continues to improve, as FloodList reported on 08 January.
Sistema Nacional de Emergencias (SINAE), Uruguay’s emergency agency, reports that levels of the Uruguay River have continued to decline over the last 48 hours the river is now below danger levels in Artigas and Salto. Levels are still above the danger mark in Paysandu, standing at 6.58 metres (safety is 5.5 metres) but are expected to drop further over the coming days.
There are still 13,326 people displaced by the floods – 160 in Artigas, 463 in Bella Union, 6612 in Paysandu, 57 in Río Negro and 6,034 in Salto. SINAE say that operations for the displaced to return home have started in those three departments. In Río Negro, those displaced are expected to start returning home on 13 January 2016.
Paraguay- Alert for Dengue, Chikungunya, and Zika
The Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare has declared an alert for Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika throughout the country. The weeks of wet weather and flooding have made it difficult to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Thankfully levels of the Paraguay River at Asunción appear to be falling. FloodList reported that levels stood at 7.84 metres on 07 January. Paraguay’s La Dirección de Meteorología e Hidrología (DMH) report that, as of 12 January 2016, levels had dropped to 7.61 metres and continue on a downward trend, although still well above the 5.5 metres considered to be “critical stage”.
Municipal Disaster and Emergency Agency in Asunción have set up 124 emergency shelters set up for those displaced by the floods. The last figures from Pan American Health Organisation (PDF) say that over 60,000 people displaced by the floods are currently being housed in the temporary shelters, adding that there are 110,000 directly affected by the floods in Asunción.
Alberdi and Pilar
Authorities in Paraguay were concerned that the flooding would inundate the towns of Alberdi and Pilar, where river levels have increased by around 4 metres since November last year.
Paraguay’s emergency agency, La Secretaría de Emergencia Nacional (SEN), issued evacuation warnings to all residents in the small town of Alberdi in Ñeembucú Department. Around 120 families evacuated to Formosa in Argentina. SEN have deployed flood control and pumping equipment in Alberdi. River levels stood at 9.80 metres as of 07 January 2016 and have since fallen slightly to 9.77 metres.
In Pilar, also on Ñeembucú Department, the Paraguay River is still above danger levels. As of 07 January it stood at 9.07 metres. It is now at 9.12 cm, although levels remained steady in the last 24 hours. Levels would normally be around 4.5 metres at this time of year. Alerts are issued when the level is 7 metres. Critical level is considered to be 8 metres and disaster level 9.6 metres.
According to reports from SEN, there is a protective wall along the river’s edge, keeping the water from the town. SEN have warned of the likely loss of life should the wall break.