What the water carried away

What the water carried away

20/03/2009

In November 2008, the Municipality of Puerto Venecia Achi in Bolivar, an area located in the northern Colombian coast, was destroyed by the Cauca river waters. The water rose so much that even dogs and chickens sought refuge in the trees.

The intensity of the waters caused many animal deaths, and destroyed houses, infrastructure and crops. Nine months went by before the water levels in this remote village – one that can only be reached by crossing the river after a long and hard journey of 110 km – receded. Only then were inhabitants able to return home to whatever was left and try to start over.

Given the scale of the flooding and the large number of victims, the Municipality struggled to provide enough aid to those most affected. Food rations were quickly exhausted. Over time, many who had stood in solidarity began to forget the tragedy that continued to affect the Municipality, creating increased levels of poverty and hunger.

The population of Pie de Pató, a remote Municipality in the Department of Chocó in the Colombian Pacific, encountered the same fate. In this area, African and indigenous descendants of the Embera people live amid the Choco jungle, and deal with food, medicine and other supply shortages regularly.

To get to Pie de Pató, one must travel from Quibdó, the capital of the Department, for six hours on rough roads. Then one must take a boat from the Maluk port that can take up to three hours longer, depending on the conditions of the river. Theirs is a tragedy waiting to happen every winter, to such a degree that its inhabitants have learned to live with the water.

Their wardrobes have more than one pair of rubber boots, and houses are built well above sea level to avoid that constant flooding affect their homes. The same happens with the orchards. These families have settled down as far above the river as they can to ensure the water doesn’t carry away their animals or their vegetables. However, during the winter in November 2008, these precautions were to no avail. The water levels of the Baudío River reached such high levels that no orchard or house was safe from the constantly rising river.

To support these people and others who have lost their homes, livelihoods and crops, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) deployed its technicians to affected areas in order to provide seeds, tools and animals, as well as train inhabitants on new growing techniques to help them produce more quality food.

These people, isolated in remote areas and affected by a common tragedy, received FAO with appreciation and enthusiasm. They began rebuilding their gardens, and in some cases replanting rice. They hoped that with this support, and that afforded by other United Nations agencies, they’d be able to recover, at least some of, what the water carried away. They keep hoping that with time and new barriers to protect them, the water won’t once again carry away what the UN has helped to bring back.