Colombia faces wildfires emergency, seeks international aid

January 26, 2024

Colombia has declared a disaster situation due to widespread wildfires, prompting President Gustavo Petro to call for international assistance.

The fires, fueled by unusually high temperatures and dry conditions, are attributed to the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Efforts are underway to control the fires, which have caused widespread disruption, including flight cancellations in Bogota due to smoke.

Disaster declaration and international response

President Gustavo Petro announced a “situation of disaster and calamity,” redirecting funds to address the crisis.

He has appealed for international help, with the United States, Chile, Peru, and Canada responding.

The president is also seeking cooperation from the United Nations and the European Union.

“We are going toward an increasingly difficult stage,” Petro said, describing the situation as a “climate crisis.”

Impact of the wildfires

The National Disaster Risk Management Unit reported 25 active fires on Thursday, with 10 under control and 217 extinguished.

Smoke from the fires led to flight disruptions at Bogota’s El Dorado airport.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Colombia reported that visibility was affected by 70% fog and 30% smoke.

The fires have also prompted the declaration of a state of emergency in Santander and Cundinamarca, affecting about 600 hectares of forest.

Response to the crisis

Local authorities and volunteers, including the Colombian Army, are working to contain the fires.

Daniel Trujillo, a Colombian Civil Defense volunteer, explained the strategy to divide burned and unburned areas to prevent the fire’s spread.

Gustavo Andres Betancourt, a Colombian army member, noted the challenges of containing active hotspots, especially at night.

President Petro linked the crisis to global warming exacerbating El Niño.

He emphasized the importance of prioritizing water supplies and noted that some towns in Colombia recorded record temperatures.

The ongoing fires have significantly deteriorated air quality in Bogota, impacting the city’s 8 million residents.

FSJA Comment

The wildfire crisis in Colombia represents a significant challenge for the country’s disaster management capabilities.

The swift declaration of a disaster situation by President Petro underscores the severity of the situation and the need for a coordinated response.

The international aid received highlights the global nature of such disasters and the importance of international cooperation in addressing them.

The impact on air quality and the disruption caused in areas like Bogota demonstrate the far-reaching consequences of such natural disasters, not only on the environment but also on public health and infrastructure.

The involvement of various agencies, including the Colombian Army and Civil Defense volunteers, reflects a multi-faceted approach to disaster management.

The situation in Colombia also brings to the forefront the broader issue of climate change and its role in exacerbating weather phenomena like El Niño.

The record temperatures and drought conditions experienced in the country serve as a reminder of the urgent need for global action on climate change, highlighting the interconnectedness of environmental issues across national borders.

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