Disasters, Environment, Flooding, Rivers On the morning of April 1, more than 60,000 people were hit by a massive landslide that dragged large amounts of water, dirt and mud downhill and buried 17 neighborhoods of Mocoa in the process.For risk management expert Gustavo Wilches-Chaux, the lack of land use planning is one of the factors that determined the impact of this natural disaster.Wilches-Chaux notes that some Colombian populations have settled along the tributaries of the main rivers of the country — areas highly vulnerable to floods, landslides and avalanches. Mocoa, Colombia – The recent landslide disaster in Mocoa, the capital city of Colombia’s southwestern Putumayo region, left 254 people dead and 203 hospitalized, according to the latest report issued by the National System for Disaster Risk Management (SNGRD). The Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the Southern Amazon (Corpoamazonia) warned about such a possible disaster back in 2015.On the morning of April 1, more than 60,000 people were caught by surprise when a landslide dragged massive amounts of water, dirt and mud downhill, and buried 17 neighborhoods of Mocoa. It also completely wiped out the neighborhood of San Miguel and devastated portions of the Laureles, San Fernando and Progreso neighborhoods, according to regional authorities. On Sunday, April 2 more than 1,300 SNGRD operatives, made up of personnel from the military, police, civil defense, fire department and the Red Cross were dispatched. The government sent 10 helicopters, six airplanes, seven boats and 63 other vehicles to support the specialized rescue personnel.Aerial shot of the effects of the landslide in the Independencia neighborhood, Mocoa. Photo courtesy of CorpoamazoniaThe landslide proved tragically what is already well-known: Putumayo and its capital city have a critical environmental situation. The geography, soil, steep slopes and nearby streams were all factors that contributed to the landslide. Located on the slope of a mountain, the city is at risk when the Mocoa, Sangoyaco and Mulato Rivers overflow.Although the federal government has denied the possibility of another landslide in Mocoa in a press release issued by the SNGRD, Corpoamazonia disagrees. Corpoamazonia says that the difficulty of cleaning the riverbeds, due to big fallen rocks and trees, could generate new obstructions in the streams and rivers, and therefore cause more flooding. The organization’s experts believe that the alert for the Mulato and Sangoyaco rivers and the streams of Taruca, Conejo and Almorzadero —which were the ones responsible for the disaster in Mocoa— are still in force.Corpoamazonia believes that an obstruction of the Mocoa River’s main channel generated the violent landslide, which wiped out hundreds of homes located north of the municipality of Mocoa.Landslide areas located in the middle and upper part of the Taruca micro-watershed. Photo courtesy of CorpoamazoniaFor Luís Alexander Mejía Bustos, director of Corpoamazonia, there is still a red alert, as he stated in an interview granted to Semana Sostenible. According to the director, an overflight showed that the slopes of the streams are fractured, there is river erosion and a lot of debris on the riverbeds and banks.“In fact, there is so much debris that if it rained again like it did on Saturday morning, a replica of the tragedy would happen again,” Mejía said. “The rivers still need to reach their base level and that will take a considerable time.”Other experts agree that the situation is still dangerous. The early warnings issued in the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies’ (IDEAM) daily bulletins remain on high or red alert because rainfall will continue, high volumes of precipitation will fall in the upper basins of the Putumayo rivers and in the Amazonian foothills. IDEAM has also issued an orange alert, which warns of potential landslides throughout the Amazon region.Although deforestation is considered one of the main causes of the Mocoa disaster, IDEAM and Corpoamazonia experts agree that a number of factors, including rainfall volume and geological instability in the area, are also to blame.Mocoa Mayor José Castro, told Mongabay what happened the night of the disaster. “We got out of the house when we heard a tremendous noise, the land roared, but we did not know what it was, and we watched the river take away what was in front of us, entire houses,” he said. “People were caught in the mudslides, but we were able to get out of there.”A foreseen disasterIn 2015, Corpoamazonia and the government of Putumayo carried out modeling studies to accurately assess the area’s risk of flooding. The technical data obtained confirmed that natural phenomena of great proportions, such as the one that occurred in April, could happen, according to Luís Alexander Mejía Bustos, director of Corpoamazonia.In an interview with Semana Sostenible, Mejía said that they warned authorities that disasters such as the recent one could happen due to the “inadequate use of the land” during a workshop with the Colombian Geological Service. They also noted that several Amazonian municipalities such as Mocoa “had not updated their Land Management Plan.”In addition to the Corpoamazonia-Putumayo study, several reports by IDEAM issued the same day of the tragedy in statements sent to all the authorities of the country. Omar Franco, director general of IDEAM, told Mongabay that they also issued an alert for heavy rain and possible landslides in the Municipality of Putumayo in addition to statements given to the central government by Mocoa’s mayor.An alert for heavy rains in the Putumayo region were sent the day before the landslide, warning that March 30 had been the second rainiest day of the month and heavy rains were predicted in the Amazonian foothills and the slopes of the Putumayo region. The night before the disaster, according to IDEAM, 129.3 millimeters (5 inches) of rain fell in the municipality of Mocoa, equivalent to the volume of water that would normally fall over ten days in this part of the Amazon foothills.According to Franco, the concentration of rain was so intense during the night that it increased the magnitude of the disaster and made the tragedy worse. He also said that in the last 25 years, rainfall higher than that has been recorded, but the difference lies in the volume of rain. This time, it was distributed over 24 hours and in Mocoa specifically, and only within three hours.Panoramic view of San Miguel (in Mocoa) and San Antonio (Junín electrical substation). Photo courtesy of CorpoamazoniaAccording to IDEAM’s Franco, the phenomena caused by heavy rains is something that cannot be avoided. “The level of vulnerability of the population, the loss of vegetation cover and the lack of monitoring of those areas, is what makes these heavy rains have a greater impact,” he said. He added that to prevent recurring disasters, it is necessary to have better control of these variables and work on deeper concepts such as land use management.Logs, rocks and mud dragged by the torrential mudslides in San Miguel. Photo courtesy of CorpoamazoniaPossible factors of the tragedyOn the day of the disaster, environmental authorities flew over the affected areas and saw proof of what scientific studies had already established.Iván Darío Melo, deputy director of the environmental management sector of Corpoamazonia, said his organization found conditions of vulnerability in the affected area, how changes in land use and the occurrence of pastures have displaced the forest which previously helped in the regulation of water, and protection and containment of the rivers located in the upper basin.With less forest area, the biological material of the soil is more susceptible to erosion, Melo explained, and if steep slopes are taken into account — with slopes between 50 and 100 degrees — the scenario for the natural disaster was evident. Melo said heavy rain that began around 10 p.m. the night before was the final ingredient for a landslide. “Hours later I was talking with a friend through social media and the last thing she said to me was: ‘the stream is roaring,’” Melo said. Her name now appears on the list of missing people, next to dozens who are missing.IDEAM alerts had also reported deforestation and land use change in the municipality.Human presence in river basins is another factor that Melo says should not be overlooked. According to him, “Many settlements exist on river banks and only when these things happen do we understand that rivers are dynamic and they need space to move.”Rocks accumulated in San Miguel. Photo courtesy of CorpoamazoniaIs deforestation the cause of the tragedy?In the last 25 years, the region of Putumayo has been leading the deforestation figures in Colombia, with the loss of 380,000 hectares (939,000 acres), according to IDEAM. Putumayo has the fifth-highest regional deforestation of Colombia.Edersón Cabrera, coordinator of IDEAM’s forest monitoring system, said that while the Mocoa situation is not the most worrying in the region, deforestation in the 1990s and 2000s — especially in the upper parts of the Mocoa River basin — did cause landslides.“More than 10,000 hectares have been deforested over the last 25 years in the Mocoa River basin, with the highest peaks occurring from 2000 to 2005 and 2005 to 2010, averaging 700 hectares deforested annually in that part of the municipality,” Cabrera explained.The effects of the landslides in Mocoa. Photo courtesy of CorpoamazoniaWhen high-intensity precipitation occurs over short periods, soil becomes saturated and then tends to slide. In this scenario, trees and vegetation typically help to counteract the problem, a role that pastures and crops can not fulfill because they don’t have the type of roots that can contain or mitigate landslides.According to Cabrera, IDEAM analysis has found that deforestation over time has made certain areas more susceptible to landslides. “In the case of the Mocoa River basin, because river banks are so steep, the sediments that go to the riverbeds cause blockages (obstructions) resulting in these phenomena,” Cabrera said.Land use management: a fundamental problem According to the IDEAM director Franco, there are more than 500 municipalities in Colombia that are at differing risk levels, 185 of them are on orange or red alerts, warning that they could be affected by landslides.For risk management expert Gustavo Wilches-Chaux, the lack of land use planning is one of the factors that determined the huge impact of the Mocoa landslide.Wilches-Chaux said some Colombian populations have settled in the tributaries of the main rivers of the country, putting their lives at risk. The areas are highly vulnerable to floods, landslides and avalanches. He said it is not a question of imposing human priorities on the dynamics of nature, but of ordering social needs in such a way that they don’t clash with the dynamics of ecosystems. He said that in order to avoid future disasters, early warnings should be heeded and there should be greater collaboration with communities on land use planning.View of the neighborhood Progreso, Mocoa. Photo courtesy of Corpoamazonia“Climate change and extreme climate variability are forcing us to address the management of territories from a non-anthropocentric ethic, instead based on the recognition of the rights of nature and respect for all human beings and non-humans who share the earth,” Wilches-Chaux said.Cover photo courtesy of CorpoamazoniaThis story was reported by Mongabay’s Latin America (Latam) team and was first published in Spanish on our Latam site on April 3, 2017. Article published by Romina Castagnino Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? In Madagascar, location, location, locationScissors1dOther countries should also learn and try to incorporateWhy you should care about the current wave of mass extinctions (commentary)Processor1 DecAfter all, there is no infinite anything in the whole galaxy!Infinite stupidity, right here on earth.The wildlife trade threatens people and animals alike (commentary)Anchor3dUnfortunately I feel The Chinese have no compassion for any living animal. They are a cruel country that as we knowneatbeverything that moves and do not humanily kill these poor animals and insects. They have no health and safety on their markets and they then contract these diseases. Maybe its karma maybe they should look at the way they live and stop using animals for all there so called remedies. DisgustingConservationists welcome China’s wildlife trade banThobolo27 JanChina has consistently been the worlds worst, “ Face of Evil “ in regards our planets flora and fauna survival. In some ways, this is nature trying to fight back. This ban is great, but the rest of the world just cannot allow it to be temporary, because history has demonstrated that once this coronavirus passes, they will in all likelihood, simply revert to been the planets worst Ecco Terrorists. Let’s simply not allow this to happen! How and why they have been able to degrade this planets iconic species, rape the planets rivers, oceans and forests, with apparent impunity, is just mind boggling! Please no more.Probing rural poachers in Africa: Why do they poach?Carrot3dOne day I feel like animals will be more scarce, and I agree with one of my friends, they said that poaching will take over the world, but I also hope notUpset about Amazon fires last year? Focus on deforestation this year (commentary)Bullhorn4dLies and more leisSponsoredSponsoredCoke is again the biggest culprit behind plastic waste in the PhilippinesGrapes7 NovOnce again the article blames companies for the actions of individuals. It is individuals that buy these products, it is individuals that dispose of them improperly. If we want to change it, we have to change, not just create bad guys to blame.Brazilian response to Bolsonaro policies and Amazon fires growsCar4 SepThank you for this excellent report. I feel overwhelmed by the ecocidal intent of the Bolsonaro government in the name of ‘developing’ their ‘God-given’ resources.U.S. allocates first of $30M in grants for forest conservation in SumatraPlanet4dcarrot hella thick ;)Melting Arctic sea ice may be altering winds, weather at equator: studyleftylarry30 JanThe Arctic sea ice seems to be recovering this winter as per the last 10-12 years, good news.Malaysia has the world’s highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest mapBone27 Sep, 2018Who you’re trying to fool with selective data revelation?You can’t hide the truth if you show historical deforestation for all countries, especially in Europe from 1800s to this day. WorldBank has a good wholesome data on this.Mass tree planting along India’s Cauvery River has scientists worriedSurendra Nekkanti23 JanHi Mongabay. Good effort trying to be objective in this article. I would like to give a constructive feedback which could help in clearing things up.1. It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. As you seem to have spoken with an Isha spokesperson, if you could connect the concerned parties, it would be great, because I see that the ecologists are genuinely interested in making sure things are done the right way.May we all come together and make things happen.Rare Amazon bush dogs caught on camera in BoliviaCarrot1 Feba very good iniciative to be fallowed by the ranchers all overSponsored
The U.S. House of Representatives could vote as early as this week to approve two controversial, Republican-backed bills that would change how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses science and scientific advice to inform its policies. Many Democrats, scientific organizations, and environmental groups are pushing back, calling the bills thinly veiled attempts to weaken future regulations and favor industry. White House advisers today announced that they will recommend that President Barack Obama veto the bills if they reach his desk in their current form (statements here and here).The bills, introduced by a mostly Republican cast of sponsors in both the House and the Senate, would require that EPA use only publicly available, reproducible data in writing regulations and seek to remake the membership and procedures of the agency’s science advisory panels. Supporters, including industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that the legislation would improve the transparency and soundness of how EPA uses science, making regulations less costly and more effective.Opponents, however, are calling the bills wolves in sheep’s clothing. “I cannot support legislation that makes it easier for industry to implement their destructive playbook, because risking the health of the American people is not a game that I’m willing to play,” said Representative Paul Tonko (D–NY) at a 25 February committee meeting on the bills.Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)Versions of both bills had been introduced in previous Congresses, and their revival was widely expected as part of Republicans’ continuing efforts to block key parts of Obama’s environmental agenda.H.R. 1030, the EPA Secret Science Reform Act, was introduced in the House by Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), chair of the House science committee; a Senate companion is backed by Senator John Barrasso (R–WY). The bill would require the data EPA use for future regulations to be publicly available so that other scientists can independently analyze it. “The legislation provides an opportunity for the type of transparent and accountable government the American people want and deserve,” Smith said just before a 25 February committee vote to send the bill to the full House.H.R. 1029, the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Reform Act, meanwhile, was introduced in the House by representatives Frank Lucas (R–OK) and Collin Peterson (D–MN) and in the Senate by senators John Boozman (R–AR) and Joe Manchin (D–WV). The bill would make changes to the structure and procedures of the SAB, a federally chartered body of scientists and economists who review EPA risk assessments and policy documents and advise the agency on other science-related matters. The bill would improve scientific advice to EPA by “guaranteeing a well-balanced expert panel, increasing transparency, and encouraging public participation,” Lucas said before the committee also voted to send the bill to the full House.Democrats, science groups, and public-interest groups have numerous concerns about both bills. The secret science bill, for example, would apparently bar EPA from using public health studies based on confidential patient information, wrote the American Statistical Association’s president, David Morganstein, in a 25 February letter to lawmakers. That would force the agency into “a choice … between maintaining data confidentiality and issuing needed regulations,” he wrote. Also, efforts to deidentify sensitive data before release—by stripping names and other information—aren’t fail-safe, Morganstein wrote.But backers of the bill said those problems could be resolved. Study participants could sign waivers acknowledging that the raw data could become public, said Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R–CA). People concerned about their privacy could also decline to participate, he suggested. “Their specific participation isn’t necessary to have a successful research project,” he said at the committee meeting.Democrats disagreed. Researchers’ findings could become skewed, because many potential participants—especially the sickest ones—would drop out. “You need a broad, unbiased sample in order to have valid results,” Representative Zoe Lofgren (D–CA) said at the meeting.Democrats are further concerned about another provision, not included in earlier versions, that would give EPA only $1 million per year to implement the bill, which would entail, among other things, obtaining raw data from study authors. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculated that the bill would cost $250 million annually to implement early on, and that’s only if EPA were to halve the number of studies it used to 25,000 annually, said Representative Donna Edwards (D–MD).“It forces the agency into an untenable position”—either ignore the bill’s requirements because of lack of funding or comply with them and stop using scientific studies almost entirely after the money runs out, Edwards said. “The majority is actually legislating failure,” she said.Another provision in the advisory board legislation also troubles some outside groups. It would allow industry scientists greater leeway to join EPA panels, but bar academic scientists on the panels from talking about matters related to research they’re doing. The idea is to provide balance and prevent conflicts of interest, backers say. But the provision “turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head,” wrote Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a 25 February letter to lawmakers. Even though the bill contains new language that lets scientists talk about their research if their expertise is externally peer reviewed and publicly disclosed, Rosenberg worries that language is legally ambiguous, as scientists’ work isn’t limited to published research.Another provision requiring advisory panels to respond to all public comments would encourage commenters to bombard panelists, preventing the panels from finishing their work, said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), the top Democrat on the House science committee. “I assume that is the point of this legislation,” Johnson said.Committee Republicans defeated a number of Democratic amendments to alter the bills before sending them to the full House, but approved one (by voice vote) from Representative Alan Grayson (D–FL) that would bar all lobbyists from serving on EPA advisory panels.The full House is expected to approve the bills as early this week. The Senate’s course of action isn’t yet clear.*Update, 4 March, 11:00 a.m.: This story has been updated to include the White House’s veto threat, and to clarify a bill provision on academic members of advisory panels.