Natural Hazard Risk
Colombia is a country with high exposure to natural hazards, including cyclones, coastal and river flooding, earthquakes, landslides, and volcanoes. It has the highest recurrence of extreme hazard events in South America, with 84 percent of the population and 86 percent of assets exposed to two or more hazards.
The country’s tropical climate lends to heavy and frequent rains, a condition altered by El Niño and La Niña phenomena. The 2010–11 La Niña rainy season affected approximately 3.5 million people and caused unprecedented economic losses and damages from flash floods, landslides, and other hazard events.
Although hydro-meteorological events represent most disaster-related losses, 86 percent of the population live in medium- and high-risk seismic areas. With more than 20 active volcanoes, about 1.9 million people located in areas at-risk, of whom 240,000 at high risk.
Colombia has one of the highest urbanization rates in Latin America, with significant portions of the population living in poorly planned urban areas, informal settlements, and densely populated coastal areas. This, coupled with the effects of climate change, is exacerbating damages and losses caused by flooding and landslides. By 2060, the sea level on both coastlines (Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean) could increase by 40–60 centimeters from 1961–90 levels, putting millions of coastal inhabitants and gross domestic product at greater risk from flooding and other natural hazards.
Colombia’s commitment to disaster risk reduction dates back to the 1983 Popayan mega-disaster, a volcanic eruption that triggered an avalanche and earthquakes. The government responded by creating a disaster preparedness and response system. In 1989, the National System for Disaster Management and Prevention consolidated and shifted the system to disaster risk management (DRM). Since then, DRM has remained a central theme of the government’s policy program.
The 2014 National Policy for Disaster Risk Management represents a comprehensive DRM approach. The policy is implemented in part through the National Development Plan 2014–18, which prioritizes fiscal risk management. Other areas of national focus include minimizing loss of life, reducing the exposure of assets, and financing rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, all of which have led the country to be considered a pioneer for DRM in Latin America.
The Government of Colombia is prioritizing the following:
- Adapting coastal infrastructure to climate change;
- Continuing to integrate DRM into urban land-use planning;
- Undertaking public investment and development planning at the municipal level; and,
- Increasing financial resilience to disasters through innovative financial solutions.
Since 2008, GFDRR has supported activities helping Colombia to better identify, reduce, and prepare for natural hazard risks at the national, regional, and municipal level. Initial GFDRR support focused on identifying hazard risks at the municipal and national level, with a particular emphasis on flood risk management.
In 2008, GFDRR supported probabilistic catastrophe risk modeling in the capital city of Bogotá. In 2012, GFDRR assisted the city again to prepare a Rio Bogotá Dynamic River Management Plan, ensuring infrastructure investments in dikes and reservoirs are optimally used to minimize flood risk.
In 2010, GFDRR supported the district of Barranquilla to address severe flooding problems, including by developing a methodology to create a national risk inventory of settlements. That same year, GFDRR financed a probabilistic risk assessment of Bogota under the CAPRA program to better inform public policies, planning, and development strategies for the capital district. These risk assessments informed $100 million in government financing, and World Bank support, for DRM activities.
In the aftermath of the 2010–11 La Niña rainy season, GFDRR prepared an analysis of DRM in Colombia. This work helped identify gaps and consolidate Colombia’s DRM framework, improving municipal disaster planning and strengthening inter-agency coordination.
Beginning in 2012, GFDRR enabled a dialogue among Andean countries for regional collaboration and exchange of DRM best practices. Building on this, GFDRR supported similar work in 2016 to analyze World Bank projects implemented in Central American and Andean countries, distilling and communicating lessons learned and best practices.
Additionally, during fiscal year 2013, GFDRR activities provided the government with expertise on a better way to manage its budget during a natural disaster. This includes advisory services to develop a prototype financial risk management decision tool, allowing policy-makers to design and to evaluate different catastrophe management options.
GFDRR anticipates continued demand from the Government of Colombia in the following areas:
- Strengthening social protection systems to rapidly respond to the needs of the poor and vulnerable in the aftermath of disasters;
- Enhancing DRM in urban and coastal areas; and,
- Integrating global best practices for DRM into municipal planning.