A comprehensive study on Disaster management in Columbia – (PAD 4833 – International and Comparative Disaster Management)

Emergency management

A comprehensive study on Disaster management in Columbia – (PAD 4833 – International and Comparative Disaster Management)


During the course of the semester, you will each write an 8-10 page research paper on disaster management in a developed, developing, or under-developed country. Your research paper should be a comprehensive study of disaster management in your chosen country.

The report and presentation should include the following for your study:
•    The rationale and history behind that country’s organizational approach to disaster management (Why is disaster management in that country organized the way it is?)
•    The implementation pattern that applies (top-down, bottom-up, or confused) (Are response and recovery actions triggered by the national government or by local government?)
•    Disaster Hazards and Planning: What kinds of disasters is your country prone to? What disasters have they planned for?
•    Participants in that country’s disaster management (Who participates in the process? Governmental agencies NGOs? Military? International Organizations?)
•    Potential Obstacles to Effective Disaster Management 
•    How Disasters have shaped Disaster Management Planning and Policy in that country today
•    References

Competed paper

A comprehensive study on Disaster management in Columbia


The Republic of Columbia is a country found in South America occupying a space of approximately 1.1 million square kilometers and with a population of 49 million people (US News, 2020). Columbia is a relatively poor country with a per capita of around 14,000 USD. Part of the reason for its low per capita is the political instability and conflicts experienced in the country’s history. As a result also, according to US News (2020), Columbia does not have well-developed systems in health, education, and security. The poor systems also extend to the area of disaster risk management. A report by World Bank (2012) shows that Columbia has had a good track record of disaster management due to being highly prone to disasters. In addition, over time, Columbia has implemented changes to its disaster management plan towards more resilience. This paper constitutes an outlook of Columbia’s disaster management approach including its history, implementation pattern, planning, participants, obstacles, and integration with policy and planning.

The rationale and history behind that country’s organizational approach to disaster management

Columbia is among the countries in Latin America that are most prone to natural disaster. Between year 1970 and 2015, a total of 155 disaster events have occurred in the country causing damage estimated at 7 billion dollars and impact almost 18 million people (World Bank Group, 2017). Common disasters in Columbia include floods, earthquake, drought and storms. Leading up to 2010, 73% of the population were affected by floods, 23% earthquake, 2% drought and 2% storms (World Bank, 2012). Despite the high risk of disaster, over 86% of the population live in areas with medium to high risk of earthquakes. Further, 1.9 million people living within the proximity of 20 active volcanoes with over 200,000 people being at high risk of volcanic disaster (GFDRR, 2020).

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Due to the high frequency of disasters and the vulnerability of most of the population, disaster management in Columbia has evolved to cater for the needs of its populace. The changes in the disaster management approach have been in phases as explained by World Bank Group (2017). The first phase was active in the 1980s and involved a direct response to disaster from the Fondo Nacional de Calamidades but it was inadequate and too expansive in light of the response to the Popayan earthquake of 1979 and volcanic eruption at Nevado Del Ruiz in 1985. The second phase was the creation of Sistema Nacional para la Prevención y Atención de Desastres—SNPAD, a body that was to institute systematic response to disaster. Local authorities were responsible for dealing with risks but support came from regional and national levels of government. Private and public interventions were also incorporate to improve efficiency.

The 1990s also saw Disaster Risk Management (DRM) move towards prevention, response and recovery from disaster under Fondo Nacional de Calamidades adopted the (PNPAD). Through law, disaster risk management was mandated as a part of developmental considerations. However, the plan was not actionable as it did not identify who would be responsible for implementation as well as the time and space of risk management in development projects. Moving into the 2000s, a new phase ensued where DRM took an integral approach with incorporation of physical and financial risks. The Council on Economic and Social Policy; CONPES consolidate the PNPAD plan and established a way to fund the program to reduce fiscal risk from natural disasters. Funding from external bodies allowed Columbia to adapt the Hyogo Framework for Action which gives international standards to disaster risk resilience at local and national levels. Currently therefore, Columbia DRM consists of knowledge risk, risk reduction, and disaster management. Disaster is managed across the board from a local committee, a municipal body, a departmental government and the national government.

The implementation pattern that applies in Columbia

Disaster response in Columbia starts from the local level and moves up towards the national level. There are four levels of disaster intervention including a local committee, a municipal body, a departmental government (Ministry of Finance and the National Planning Department) and the national government (World Bank, 2012). When a disaster strikes, the local committee determines if it can be handled locally or if there is need to seek intervention from a higher government authority.  This is following a decentralized system of intervention that assigns roles and responsibilities to different institutions across the country and at varying level of government authority.

The response pattern is systematic as guided by the divided responsibilities. At the top level is Disaster Prevention and Response Office (DGPAD) which controls disaster management via the National Operational and National Technical Committees. The DGPAD depends on Ministry of Finance and the National Planning Department or Ministry of the Interior and Justice for operational support. The DGPAD is also viewed as a network platform since it allows for memberships including private, public and community-based institutions. This makes monitoring of all organisations dealing with specific disaster fronts, such as seismic activity or volcanic activity, easier and more effective via the collaboration. It is the responsibility of SNPAD to coordinate what happens with all levels of intervention. It ensures that at each town or region, the local committee is identifying risk priorities, findings preventive mechanisms and defining strategies of intervention based on resource availability and national policies (Pulido, 2010).

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DGPAD issues plans and monitors implementation via consultation with SNPAD. The National Operations Committee intervenes on SNPAD’s activities as guided by Ministry of the Interior and Justice. Below the national levels are regional and local entities including regional and local committee for disaster risk management (REPAD, CLOPAD). These operate uniquely based on the regional circumstances and their own level of development. The local committees remain the first sources of action towards both disaster planning activities and disaster response activities. They are therefore constituted by critical members in local leadership such as governors among other institutional stakeholders. Overall, the critical views expressed by Pulido (2010) is that disaster management in Columbia has improved because of being decentralized and having the local communities empowered to handle their disaster risk needs.

Disaster Hazards and Planning

Colombia is prone to floods, earthquake, drought and storms. Floods have historically been the most occurring disaster having affected over 73% of the population. Earthquakes are also common having affected over 23% of the population. The disasters considered high-risk, low-frequency include earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. The ones considered low-risk, high-frequency include flash floods and landslides. According to World Bank (2012) around 84% of Columbia’s population and 86% of its assets are in areas where they are prone to two or more disasters.

These disasters are common in Columbia because they are influenced by natural phenomenon derived from the location and constitution of the land. First, Columbia if found in the middle of three tectonic plates, South American, Caribbean and Nazca plates. This creates high probability for landslides and earthquakes. The problem of seismic activity is made worse by the fault lines that crisscross the country including the Magdalena, Palestina and Cauca.

Second, there are six active volcanoes found in the central mountain range. One of the volcanoes, Nevado Del Ruiz erupted in 1979 causing extensive damage to the regions around it. Galera and Huila, also volcanoes erupted in late 1990s leaving similar devastation to people and property. Fruther, the Caribbean coast is susceptible to hurricanes and hence flooding is common in the region. Rivers such as Congaree River, Magdalena, Sinu, Cauca and others flood often due to increased rainfall and they cause damage to the lower lands downstream. The heavy rainfall and flood water often leave soil loose and this causes landslides along the lower basins. Lastly, drought and storms occur but at a rather smaller impact level hence lower levels of planning around them. Droughts also have consequential effects such as the major forest fires at Kelowna in year 2003 (Hystad and Keller, 2006).

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The country prepares for each of the four main disasters across the different regions with priority being accorded to the most likely disaster by occurrence. Regions with higher populations are also accorded more attention in terms of resources in a bid to increase resilience. In general, however, since a lot of people in Columbia are poor, they are vulnerable to most of the disasters either directly or indirectly. This is based on empirical proof of a relationship between poverty and natural disaster such as that by Karim and Noy (2016) who found that social and economic unpreparedness exacerbates the impact of natural disasters.

Participants in that country’s disaster management

Columbia, due to the susceptibility to natural disaster, has achieved participation in disaster risk management by diverse bodies including public institutions, private organisations and community-based organisations. The main public institutions responsible for disaster management are Ministry of Finance and the National Planning Department or Ministry of the Interior and Justice. These government ministries oversee the functioning of the main platform for disaster risk management – DGPAD. The DGPAD platform is constituted by members at all level of governance, private bodies and local committees. This helps to consolidate the interests of all members with the oversight of SNPAD, a body task with disaster risk identification and prevention. SNPAD is directly controlled by the Ministry of the Interior and Justice.

Government agencies are at the forefront of disaster management from the national level down to the local level. For instance, while at the national levels SNPAD is controlled by a government ministry, at the local committee level, the control is with governors and mayors. Further, there is a systematic approach to disaster risks that allows each of the member bodies of DGPAD and the government agencies to divide roles around risk identification, monitoring and prevention. During emergencies, the local committees are the first to respond and if their assessment reveals that the disaster is too big, they escalate the issue up the ranks towards the national government.

In terms of levels of intervention, there start is at local committee, the municipal governments, government departments and the national government. According to Pulido (2010) there are high levels of autonomy at each level deriving from the decentralization of authority. The level of involvement is thus high and significant for each participating organisation. Further, risk reduction has been incorporated into development planning. The territorial planning law (TPL) of 1997 mandated Territorial Organization Plans (POT) to be included in every development decision.

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There are also international bodies that help with disaster management in Columbia. The World Bank for example funded disaster recovery in the country starting in year 2009. Under the Natural Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Adaptable Program Loan, the World Bank gave over 265 million dollars to help streamline disaster recovery programs in the country. Other international bodies have historically helped during specific disasters. The International Red Cross League was for instance actively involved in rescue, resettlement and restoration during the volcanic eruption of Nevado Del Ruiz in 1985 (National Research Council, 1991).

Potential Obstacles to Effective Disaster Management

Insufficient funds is a significant barrier to effective disaster management in Columbia. historically, it has taken intervention by world aid organisations such as Red Cross to help overcome disaster, and example is the extensive involvement of Red Cross in the Nevado Del Ruiz rescue and recovery mission. In addition, it has taken the intervention of World Bank to modernize the disaster management framework in Columbia since previously the government lacked enough funds to make the changes. It took a project of 265 million dollars to ensure all disaster recovery standards are at par with Hyogo Framework for Action.

The lack of funds is also reflected in the general outlay of the population with a majority – 84% of Columbia’s population and 86% – living in areas where they are risk of one or two disasters. This phenomenon – massive population being exposed to disaster risk – can be explained via the empirical link between poverty and social economic status (Karim and Noy, 2016). US News (2020) found that Columbia has a per capita income of 14,000 with a majority of the population living in poverty.

Further, both in the modern and historical context, Columbia has experienced internal conflict that has extended over many years. Leading up to year 2008, there were nine civil wars at the national levels, numerous revolts at local levels and hundreds of munities that cumulatively crippled the country with loss of years worth of economic output and causing as much as 250,000 deaths (Mazzuca and Robinson, 2009). According to Felter and Renwick (2017) Columbia’s civil conflict in the last half century has caused displacement of over 5.7 million people. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) halted the violence in 2016 but there have been public concerns that being the perpetrators of the violence they were getting away without much consequence. The extended periods of conflict and displacement of people have thus always been a problem hindering effective disaster management.

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How Disasters have shaped Disaster Management Planning and Policy in that country today

Due to the high frequency of disasters in Columbia, disaster management planning and policy has had to adapt as a way to increase resilience. An example is the Territorial planning law (TPL) which requires the Territorial Organization Plans (POT) to be a key consideration in development plans especially in towns exceeding populations of 100,000 people.  Further, the decentralization of disaster risk management is a policy derived from the nature of disaster occurrence. As elaborated by World Bank (2012) the four levels of disaster management start from a local committee and escalates to the municipal government, departmental level and national level. These levels have enabled effective disaster management since the local committee – comprised of governors or mayors among other institutions – has been empowered to offer immediate response to disaster and only to seek help from a higher authority if their capacity is limited. Similarly, the modernization of disaster risk management to policies and standards that adhere to international levels has been due to the high susceptibility to risk. Columbia current DRM plan and policy consists of knowledge risk, risk reduction, and disaster management.


This paper aimed to offer an outlook of Columbia’s disaster management approach including its history, implementation pattern, planning, participants, obstacles and integration with policy and planning. Evidently, Columbia is highly prone to natural disaster based on is location near the Caribbean, situation at fault lines and major tectonic plates. The main disasters experienced include floods, earthquakes, drought and storms. The earthquakes also cause volcanic eruptions. The high frequency of disasters has caused changes to the disaster risk management plans over time to help increase resilience. The current plan allows disaster to be managed from the local level all the way to the national level. In addition, there is a systematic division of roles and responsibilities which allows public, private and community-based organisations to partner effectively. Above the local participants in disaster management, Columbia relies on international aid bodies such as Red Cross and the World Bank to help manage is emergencies. In addition, disaster frequency has shaped the high integration of disaster management with law and policy.


Felter, C. and Renwick, D., 2017. Colombia’S Civil Conflict. [online] Council on Foreign Relations. Available at: <> [Accessed 12 July 2020]. 2020. Colombia | GFDRR. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 11 July 2020].

Hystad, P., & Keller, P. (2006) Disaster management: Kelowna tourism industry’s preparedness, impact and response to a 2003 major forest fire. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 13(1), 44-58.

Karim, A., & Noy, I. (2016) Poverty and natural disasters—a qualitative survey of the empirical literature. The Singapore Economic Review, 61(01), 1640001.

Mazzuca, S., & Robinson, J. A. (2009) Political conflict and power sharing in the origins of modern Colombia. Hispanic American Historical Review, 89(2), 285-321.

National Research Council. (1991) The eruption of Nevado Del Ruiz Volcano Colombia, South America, November 13, 1985. National Academies Press.

Pulido, L. (2010) Colombia: Integrating disaster risk reduction at the local level Colombia. DPAD, viewed, 29.

US News. 2020. Overview Of Colombia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 11 July 2020].

World Bank Group, 2017. COLOMBIA – Disaster Risk Management Development Policy Loan. Disaster risk management reports. [online] Washington: World Bank. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 July 2020].

World Bank, 2012. Disaster Risk Management In Latin America And The Caribbean Region: GFDRR Country Notes – Colombia. Disaster risk management reports. [online] New York: World Bank. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 July 2020].

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