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Colombia Issues Disaster Declaration, Requests Global Aid

The sun rises during a forest fire on El Cable Hill in Bogota, Colombia, Jan. 25, 2024.
The sun rises during a forest fire on El Cable Hill in Bogota, Colombia, Jan. 25, 2024.

The Colombian government on Thursday issued a disaster declaration and requested international aid due to dozens of wildfires spreading throughout the country.

"We want to make sure that we have the physical capacity to address and mitigate [these crises]," said Colombian President Gustavo Petro.

Chile, Peru, Canada and the United States have responded to the request, although a timeline for aid is not yet clear.

The fires have already destroyed more than 6,600 hectares of vegetation, according to the National Disaster Risk Management Unit.

Officials say there are 31 active fires, with only nine under control. By declaring a disaster, the government has more leeway to allocate funds to fight the fires. Nearly half of the country’s $508 million designated to combat issues such as wildfires has already been spent.

The high number of fires raises concerns for municipalities that may not have firefighting capacity. According to the Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies, nearly half ­of municipalities have been put on maximum alert for fire risk. And according to the National Fire Department of Colombia, about a third don’t have a fire department.

More than 600 soldiers, along with aircraft and vehicles, have been deployed to emergency areas. Colombian police are transporting and spraying water over fires, using planes meant to spray chemicals over coca leaf crops.

Air quality has deteriorated in many areas — particularly in Bogota, the capital, where at least three fires surround the city. Hundreds of firefighters, police officers and volunteers are fighting fires on the mountains surrounding the city.

More than 200 fires have already been put out this month in Colombia, according to the Environment Ministry and disaster agency.

The increase in fires is due to hotter-than-normal temperatures and dry conditions, which have been worsened by the El Niño phenomenon, which is when ocean water in the central Pacific Ocean reaches above-average temperatures, affecting the weather.

Some material for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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