More than two weeks of heavy rain this month has caused the worst flooding in 20 years in Apure State, Venezuela, stranding many without clean drinking water, food or electricity.
An official state of emergency has been declared in parts of the area where HIAS works with refugees from the civil war in neighboring Colombia. According to news reports, as many as 40,000 people have been affected.
Enrique Burbinski, HIAS’ Regional Director for Latin America, says the flooding “has been devastating for the refugee community.”
“Some beneficiaries have reached out to us requesting hammocks, boots and food but everything is closed and there is nowhere to buy these things,” Burbinski said. “The people from ‘los Laureles’ (family orchards) had to leave the community and they are at the side of the road where the National Guard put them.”
But, after 4 chaotic days, aid is finally getting to Guasdualito, a small city in Western Venezuela where HIAS works with many refugees. Food deliveries have started, a water truck is expected from nearby Arauca. HIAS staff have been handing out emergency kits with basic supplies.
“We are trying very hard to buy or get medicine,” Burbinski says. HIAS staff have identified some children with fevers and a pregnant woman in need of medical attention, who they will refer elsewhere for care in the meantime.
HIAS has been working in Venezuela for 7 years. The staff of 50 there work with refugees on a daily basis, providing psychosocial assistance, to help refugees cope with the traumas they have experienced, legal assistance, for those who need help applying for official refugee status and other services.
As the water recedes and help begins to arrive, HIAS staff hope to procure needed supplies from nearby cities like San Cristobal.
Aid is now being delivered jointly by the humanitarian community in Venezuela, including HIAS, UNHCR, the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration. According to Burbunski, the joint delivery is a gesture of solidarity and has been very well received.
Now, he says, they’re anxious to clean out the flooded HIAS office and get back to their usual work -- helping refugee families in Guasdualito and beyond.