Bogota: Weeks of heavy rains in Colombia have left at least 136 people dead and disrupted the lives of more than 1.2 million as the country faces its worst rainy season in three decades, government agencies say.
Severe flooding and landslides triggered by torrential rains have damaged or destroyed more than 200,000 homes in all but five of Colombia`s 32 provinces since the rains began in June, according to the Colombian Red Cross, which has launched an appeal for funds.
"We`re on high alert. The situation is rather vulnerable," Carlos Ivan Marquez, the aid agency`s head of relief operations, told in a telephone interview. "Along with the loss of lives and thousands being forced to leave their homes, river levels are very high, some rivers have burst their banks, the ground is saturated with water, roads have been damaged and flooding has affected agricultural production."
Local weather officials blame the unusually heavy rains on the La Nina weather phenomenon, which causes lower-than-average water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.
"In Bogota, it rained in one day in November what it should normally rain during the entire month," Ricardo Lozano, head of Colombian`s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), told Colombian media.
Forecasters predict that heavy rains could continue to batter Colombia through the first few months of next year, raising fears the flooding could become a national emergency.
In the capital, Bogota, over 3,000 people have been affected by flooding and landslides, many living in precarious shacks perched on the edge of hill-top slums.
Around 200 residents of a neighbourhood in the south of the city took to the streets on Thursday, saying they had not received any assistance from local authorities.
The Colombian government - which has not sought international aid - says USD 160 million has been made available to help families affected by the floods, while the Colombian Red Cross aims to distribute more than 230 tonnes of relief supplies.
Large swathes of land along Colombia`s Pacific Coast have been submerged for weeks. Towns and villages in central and northern Colombia have been particularly hard hit, with gushing waters washing away houses and crops, damaging roads and forcing residents to seek shelter on rooftops.
The severe floods have prompted renewed calls for the Colombian authorities to focus more on disaster prevention measures, including early warning systems and building dykes.
Thousands of families who live along river banks and in flood-prone mountainous regions need better protection, aid workers say.
"These floods were forecast by weather officials. Each mayor and governor should evaluate and update areas at high risk of flooding, and educate people living there about what to do," said Marquez of the Red Cross.