The intense and continuous rains in Aragua, in the north central region of Venezuela, left at least 58 dead in the first weeks of October and destroyed entire urban developments, but beyond putting the magnifying glass on the large number of water that fell in the month, experts report a range of circumstances that make everything worse.
In principle, the lack of early warning for those who live in vulnerable areas. Gustavo Iribarren, a civil engineer specializing in geotechnics, points out that it is necessary to set up meteorological stations that transmit information in real time. “We had around 300 stations and, I understand, a little more than 80 are operational,” Iribarren details.
Another element that triggered the landslides is the deforestation caused, to a large extent, by the fires that allow the water to run faster and drag more sediments. As there are no trees, “the soil becomes saturated, because it is like a sponge and it no longer has the capacity to accept more water,” explains environmentalist and director of the Sembramos Todos organization, Enrique García Suárez.
Recipe for disaster
“The problem was not only excess water, but one of the rivers that overflowed had formed natural dams as a result of the rains and lack of maintenance. Then, when the excess water that came from the upper part of the mountain was added to it, it was the perfect recipe for disaster”, points out García Suárez.
The NGO Sembramos Todos draws attention to the short-term consequences of the decline in vegetation in different areas of the country, such as the Henri Pittier National Park, located between the states of Aragua and Carabobo.
A result of deforestation
“In Henri Pittier, as a result of deforestation, approximately 37,000 hectares of forest have been lost, within a National Park that has 107,300 hectares. We are talking about 30% of the vegetation of Henri Pittier and that is extremely dangerous for the areas that adjoin it, because it puts them at risk”, warns García Suárez.
The constructions of neighborhoods near rivers and streams are another factor that, in the opinion of specialists, must be stopped to avoid future tragedies. “Every water course is going to claim its space. The water is very jealous. All informal dwellings that are in areas of watercourses must be evacuated. As simple as that”, highlights the engineer Gustavo Iribarren.
The Venezuelan government promised to create a special fund to rebuild the towns affected by the landslides and to build some 500 houses for those who lost everything. However, it has not yet been detailed how much this plan will cost and how long it will take to execute.