“It is the most serious natural disaster in recent years in Colombia”. This is what Mgr. Héctor Fabio Henao Gaviria, Director of the Secretariat of Caritas-Social Pastoral Ministry of the Colombian Church, told SIR news agency, speaking of what happened in Mocoa, in the southern province of Putumayo, where the city was buried by a massive avalanche of mud and debris after three nearby rivers burst their banks. “It is a dramatic situation, the death toll is rising, many people are still missing, 300 families were left homeless, and many people have lost everything they had. Furthermore, the bodies that are still to be identified lie out in the open. A death register is being compiled; the victims must be given a Christian burial”, Mgr. Henao continued. “The Diocese of Mocoa has set up a core team, headed by the Vicar General of the Diocese; our Secretariat has sent two experts in the management of emergency situations. We need to set up shelters for the people affected; we need food, fuel, blankets and clothes. Efforts should be made to offer psychological support to the population, particularly the most affected and children. There is no water, no electricity, and it is difficult to reach the affected area, for it lies right in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Furthermore, poor weather conditions in recent days have damaged some of the few access ways”.
Despite this, relief efforts were undertaken without delay: “Caritas Colombia has launched a campaign to collect money, water, food. People are responding generously”. “The Mocoa area was already extremely poor and isolated before the tragedy. Its inhabitants – Mgr. Henao concluded – lived from growing rubber. When rubber plantations declined, unemployment rose; it is an extremely poor area. Municipal plans are needed to manage the risk and emergency situations. And prevention plans need to be improved, with the involvement of citizens, in order to avoid similar tragedies”.