Nowadays, the conceptualisation of risks and disasters is of great importance, as well as what they have taught us throughout history, understanding risk as a process built over time by human beings that by permanently modifying the territory, sometimes negative conditions are generated, which can lead to the materialisation of undesired events. It is also understood that disasters are not natural, but on the contrary, the political and cultural actions of society have an impact on the level of vulnerability of the inhabitants of a given area when responding to a disastrous event or recovering from its occurrence. However, in order to carry out correct risk management, there is a fundamental element that is knowledge of the risk and the identification of the factors that can alter it. For this reason, we bring you a brief account of how risk management has advanced over time, some figures on disasters and the changes generated as a result of their occurrence in the country.
Correct management must be aligned with public policies and in recent years Colombia has taken important steps in terms of risk management and climate change, as it currently has a well-conceived legislative framework that has been the product of regulatory evolution, institutional ownership that has been strengthened over the years, but also as a result of the disasters that the country has had to face and which have left a series of lessons learned and inputs for the development of the three main processes of Disaster Risk Management, Risk Knowledge, Risk Reduction and Disaster Management.
Historically, Colombia began its management since 1974 with the issuance of the National Code of Natural Resources (Law 2811), in 1983 the National Calamity Fund was created, in 1985 the SNPAD arose as a result of the Armero disaster and then gave way to the creation of the National Environmental Information System-SINA (Law 99 of 1993), where territorial entities and research institutes gained importance and are now responsible for providing technical information for the proper management of irrigation. Likewise, the last decade has seen great progress with the creation of the National Disaster Risk Management System by means of Law 1523 of 2012 and by which the country has a National Risk Management Policy, which also led to the recent law on climate change management (Law 1931 of 2018).
In spite of this great progress, there are other important aspects within the framework of knowledge to carry out correct risk management and although a National Policy has been conceived in this area, many are unaware of the most latent threats and disasters that have materialised in Colombia, which are a fundamental part of the appropriation of risk conditions based on the experiences we have had. These disasters have resulted in loss of human lives, the involvement of people in the most vulnerable areas, economic losses, environmental impacts, etc., which in a holistic view generate limitations to the development of our country.
But how do we see in figures the disasters or emergencies that have occurred in Colombia? Below, we present information that briefly illustrates the cost (not only economic) that the country has had to assume, and even though their occurrence has left us valuable lessons for the apprehension of knowledge, society must definitely rethink its actions as a fundamental part of risk management and cannot continue to assume these costs.
According to the document “Analysis of disaster risk management in Colombia by the World Bank”, landslides, earthquakes, floods and torrential floods represent the events that have contributed most to the loss of lives in the country, while floods and landslides are the events that have generated the most injuries. In terms of damage to and loss of housing, floods are more relevant, occurring with a high frequency every year, which is a cause for concern, in addition to considering what is stated in tercera comunicación nacional de Colombia a la CMNUCC , which indicates that by 2040 an increase of between 7 and 20% of precipitation is expected in some regions of the country (Cundinamarca, Tolima, Nariño, Cauca, Huila, Risaralda and Caldas).
Now, if we take a look at the economic aspect, we can observe that earthquakes have represented the greatest cost in the history of disasters, without taking into account floods, for which there is no sequential data on the number of events that have occurred.
Finally, a retrospective review of documented disasters in Colombia reveals the following:
This information alone shows the implications of late or inadequate risk management; the implications of the different natural hazards for Colombia can be seen in general terms and, even more importantly, it is important to know that there are countless events that are not quantified or, worse still, are not reported, which is a limitation in a fundamental aspect such as risk knowledge, the starting point for risk reduction.
Thus, it is evident that disaster risk management must be active, participatory, inclusive among the different actors (public sector, private sector, community) and one of the steps to follow could be oriented to strengthen the technical and operative capacity at local and regional level or perhaps to appropriate the communities of the existing risks, with the sole purpose of knowing the risk, reducing the threat, vulnerability and/or the accumulation of risks that are latent for the country and that evidently imply a very high social, environmental and economic cost.
Sources of information:
-  United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, prepared by IDEAM in 2017.
- Photo taken fromhttps://www.efeverde.com/noticias/las-inundaciones-dejan-al-menos-dos-muertos-colombia/?tematica=energia 2017
- Analysis of disaster risk management in Colombia by the World Bank https://www.desinventar.net/DesInventar/statistics.jsp, for disaster risk reduction, register for Colombia 1914-2018, consulted, 2020.
- World Bank analysis of disaster risk management in Colombia – Economic analysis https://www.desinventar.net/DesInventar/statistics.jsp, for disaster risk reduction, consulted, 2020. Register 1914-2018.
- Estudio sobre desastres ocurridos en Colombia: Estimación de pérdidas y cuantificación de costos, Cardona et al, 2004. World Bank, Colombian Agency for International Cooperation and National Planning Department.
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