On the 19th of May 2018, the Colombian Red Cross requested resources from International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to be able to scale up their capacity to respond to the risk of avalanche and flash flooding after a failure in the Ituango hydroelectric project.

Ituango hydroelectric dam project, still in the final stages of construction, is located in the Department of Antioquia (Colombia), on the Cauca River. The project mainly covers the municipalities of Ituango and Briceño, but also reaches the municipalities of Santa Fe de Antioquia, Buriticá, Peque, Liborina, Sabanalarga, Toledo, Olaya, San Andrés de Cuerquia, Valdivia and Yarumal.

Last April, landslides affected the Cauca river, leading to the blockage of the dam’s main diversion tunnel, and causing water levels to rise progressively behind the partially built dam. Water evacuation through turbines and the engine rooms resulted insufficient, and the risk of water overflowing the dam or the damn breaking therefore increased during the first days of May.

On the 14th of May, Antioquia’s state governor declared the situation a “public calamity”, predicting that the bursting of the dam could affect up to 133’000 people. At the same time, the blockage in the diversion tunnel was breached, causing important floods downstream that affected hundreds of people from the village of Puerto Valdivia and its surrounding.

The Red Cross’ response

The Colombian Red Cross activated over 200 volunteers from from the affected municipalities, to address the needs of health and first aid, personal hygiene, access to water and food and shelter of the affected people, paying special attention to the most vulnerable groups.

To support a scale-up of the intervention, the Colombian Red Cross requested an allocation of CHF 233,859 through the IFRC´s Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF). The funds will allow to reach 800 families affected by the disaster, supporting the evacuation of areas at risk, the provision of first aid and psychosocial attention, and ensuring that their basic needs are met.