Flooding has beset lowland parts of Bolivia, such as the Amazonian region of Beni on the Brazilian border, with disastrous consequences for local farming communities.
“The number of affected families has risen to 59,800, while 59 individuals lost their lives under different circumstances caused by the rains,” the Latin American Herald Tribune quoted Bolivian Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra as saying on February 22.
As the rains continue in sparsely populated sections of the South American country, access to drinking water has become a problem, as dead cattle and sewage have contaminated wells and rivers.
Mario Hurtado, president of the Beni Stock Raisers’ Federation, said more than 108,000 cattle have been killed and another 500,000 animals are at risk because of drowning or starvation. He estimated the cost to livestock owners at more than $65 million USD.
The rainy season should draw to end in March, leaving a breeding ground for mosquitos, which carry dengue fever. The CEO of Bolivia’s Ministry of Health, Ruben Colque, announced on February 24 that a fumigation campaign was already under way in Trinidad, the capital of Beni, where four cases of dengue have already been detected.
Colque said medical teams already in Beni would be bolstered with the arrival of 30 extra doctors to aid with treatment and provide support advice on sanitation, Prensa Latina reported. He claimed more than 40,000 people hit by the floods had already been assisted.
Beni is accustomed to being flooded, but this year’s rains have been particularly heavy.
“What is happening, particularly in Beni province, is something never before seen in the history of Bolivia,” according to President Evo Morales.
The province’s governor, Carmelo Lens, said a regional water disaster ought to be declared, and asked the government to allow international on-the-ground support and expertise. The government so far has rejected calls for assistance from abroad. Instead, Saavedra has insisted the government would be responsible for distribution of national and international humanitarian aid, which totals 450 tons, 230 tons of which is destined for Beni.
There have been complaints about the politicization of aid distribution in Beni.
“The handing out of donations is unequal, insufficient and unorganized,” said Defender the People (Ombudsman) Rolando Villena. He claimed government supporters had been favored, El Commercio reported on February 25.
Support has come in from 13 countries, as well as the United Nations, the Inter-American Development Bank, and private companies such as Spanish oil company Repsol.