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06 December 2010

Landslides kill 80, leave 1.5 million homesless in Colombia and Venezuela

It has been too dry across much of South America during the past month, but in the north things have remained closer to normal, even abnormally wet in some areas. A unique piece about La Niña, is that it dumps heavy rainfall on Colombia and Venezuela, while drying most other parts of the continent. There have already been several landslides in these countries so far this season, however the magnitude and frequency increased rapidly over the past weekend.

That heavy rainfall has finally triggered widespread flooding and landslides. This could  persist for the remainder of the season, but at the same time there is also the possibility that the heavy precipitation could ease. The short-term outlook is not good. Heavy rainfall will persist across western Colombia, the site of some of the worst incidents, and southern Venezuela during the coming days. Moderate rainfall elsewhere in the two countries could turn heavier with very little notice. Landslides and flooding, will continue for the next several days so long as soils across both countries remain saturated. Thus far Panama and Ecuador have remained in the clear, but there is the potential for soils to become saturated in both countries, and flooding and landslides to occur there as well. Additional fatalities and damage to infrastructure remain likely.

Hugo Chavez, President  of Venezuela, has gone on a predictable rant about environmental degradation around the globe by wealthy nations as the cause for La Niña, and causing the emergency in his country. This is off base in two ways. 1) A La Niña event caused by a cooling of equatorial Pacific temperatures west of South America, not a warming of those ocean waters. 2) He ignored the local issue of deforestation, which is also the other major factor in landslides. When heavy rain falls on soils that do not have tree roots helping to hold the land in place, it increases the chance of a landslide. Brazil has made major headway in containing illegal logging and other factors in deforestation. This year Brazil has brought deforestation to record lows. Similar programs in other countries would help to limit the number of landslides.

(Pictures from Reuters and PressTV)

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