One Young World sends message of support to Colombia in wake of Mocoa tragedy

The Director of One Young World in Latin America has called for a united approach to helping the people of the Colombian city of Mocoa, where an enormous mudslide has caused the deaths of more than 250 people.

David Gereda said the disaster, which occurred after a third of the region’s expected monthly rain fell in single night, was “truly a tragedy” but also an obvious consequence of climate change. At least 44 children have died in the catastrophe.

“The two most important conclusions on the matter are the following: the first one is that natural disasters can be foreseen and the second one is that climate change is indeed happening,” he said, calling for greater efforts to address global warming and to prevent future similar disasters.

Gereda, who is Colombian, called for the country to come together in aid of the people of the beleaguered city, where homes, highways, and bridges were flattened by the surging mud. Efforts continue to provide relief to those affected by the disaster, which left more than 400 injured.. “Right now, we can act by standing together as a nation, unite forces and cooperate to help the Mocoa population...our fellow Colombians,” said Gereda.

His sentiments were echoed by One Young World Ambassador Daniel Buritica, who commended his fellow Colombians in their reaction to “awful” event.

“What I have seen is that this kind of natural disaster has brought out the best in people. We are seeing the solidarity growing; people are using social media to organise themselves and collect food and money,” said Buritica, founder of the youth support networks RECOJO and BAKONGO.

“On one hand, anything Mocoa in this moment and especially the families of the people that are gone. On the other hand, it's the time to see Colombians, Latin Americans, and people from all over the world come together to help those in need.”

Laura Zarta, Director and Founder of the Global Warning Agency, said that these events are predictable, having occurred for many years, and will continue to happen in the future at an intensified level due to climate change.​ 

"The irregular development and the lack of urban planning that can be found in all regions of Colombia should raise enough alarms to understand the level of vulnerability to which all these populations are subjected."

Zarta, added that "high rates of deforestation in watersheds, weak land use control, the lack of territorial planning based on socio-ecological systems, and the lack of adaptation plans add to the isolation of this area without sufficient access roads." Ambassador Christian Contreras echoed similar thoughts, saying, "What happened in Mocoa was just the result of our lack of respect for our environment mixed up with really bad city planning."

Colombian Ambassador Laura Lozano, a lawyer and student at Universidad de los Andes, believes "this is an opportunity to reflect about our behavior towards our environment and our public management."

"We need to strengthen the structural planning of the cities in risky zones and the coordination between state entities and the community in order to protect infrastructure and the citizens from future environmental disasters. But we also need to reflect on the human activity and its effects on these areas."

Lozano pointed out that Mocoa and its surrounding area were victims of deforestation, extensive cattle raising and illicit crop cultivation which have damaged the surrounding environment. 

This sort of catastrophe is not new to villages in Colombia, yet municipal governments have allowed the development and growth of townships in at-risk zones around the Mocoa, Sangoyaco, and Mulata rivers says Ambassador Paula Rojas. Rojas, who earned her Masters in Sustainable Development and Environmental Management, expressed that these repetitive events are a reminder of the Armero tragedy, where a volcanic eruption took the lives of over 20,000 local inhabitants.

Martin Santiago, a senior United Nations official in Colombia, told the BBC that climate change was behind the mudslide, saying it had caused “tremendous results in terms of intensity, frequency and magnitude of these natural effects”.

Adriana Soto, a former Colombian environment minister, pointed to deforestation in south-west Colombia, where the tragedy occurred. “When the basins are deforested, they break down,” she told the BBC. “It is as if we remove the protection for avoiding landslides.”

The President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, has declared a state of emergency. “The first thing I want to say is that my heart, our hearts, the hearts of all Colombians are with the victims of this tragedy,” he said.

The One Young World 2017 Summit, which takes place in the Colombian capital of Bogotá on 4-7 October. Young leaders from 196 countries will gather to address five plenary themes: Environment & Sustainability, Peace & Reconciliation, Education, Poverty Alleviation and Leadership & Government.

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