Columbia declares emergency over forest fires

Photo credit: Agence France-Presse (AFP)

In the last month, Columbia has extinguished hundreds of fires, but 25 continue to burn, according to data from the National Disaster Risk Management Unit on Wednesday. This resulted in Bogotá, Columbia declaring a state of emergency in two regions, while the capitol further became blanketed in smoke. Why is this disaster happening, and what is the impact on the people of Columbia? What is being done about it? Is there anything we can do to help?

87% of Columbia is now at maximum risk for its residents, which is causing a significant impact to their day-to-day lives. In addition, there has been a significant deterioration in air quality in the city of eight million people, according to the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies. Pedestrians have recently been spotted wearing facemasks in response.

It is heartbreaking to witness such horrors taking place from afar, and that begs the question, is there anything that we can do to help? Dorothy Vanlwaarden (’27) expressed that “this is an important issue that should be more widely addressed,” and “If the fires are not only harming wildlife, but the lives of humans too, the situation should be considered very important and be spread to more people so something more can be done to help Columbia.” It’s true that in Bogotá, an unquenchable firestorm buries the mountains to the west of the city, where wild animals have been forced to shield themselves in built-up areas. Authorities gave examples of these animals, which likely includes birds, porcupines, coatis and frogs. 

Having awareness is one matter, but understanding the deeper causes of why this is happening is equally substantial. Climate change has already led to an increase in wildfire season delight, wildfire frequency and burned area, according to UNGRD. Wildlife season has also lengthened in many areas due to factors including warmer temperatures in spring, longer summers, dry seasons etc. This is relevant in weather witnessed in Michigan and the recent flurry of snow. This would be due to how much warmer these winters have been in recent years. 

Steps should be taken, according to Scott Macaulay (University of Strathclyde, ’19) who had a “Wizard of Oz moment” when learning about how global warming and climate change is truly impacting us all. In fact, he also expressed that whether we like it or not, we need to start getting prepared for future work in a world of climate breakdown.

Climate Education is expanding very rapidly, but within this there should be a deeper focus on the aspect of climate migration and poverty. This is creating awareness of the inequalities that rise because of climate change. Economists should be discussing the impacts of extreme weather events, such as what is taking place in Columbia, on national economies.

President Gustavo Petro announced that global warming was the factor exacerbating the El Niño weather, which is the circumstance generally connected with increased temperatures worldwide. There have been droughts in a few parts of the world, and heavy rains in others.

Petro commented that “This may be the hottest year in the history of mankind,’ while also calling on “every mayor, every governor and the national government to prioritize water supplies.” It is no wonder there are anxieties around the instance of water because nine towns in the center, north and east of Columbia reported record temperatures of 104 degrees fahrenheit this past Tuesday.

These issues are still ongoing, so it is crucial to keep Columbia in our prayers and have hope they will make it through this disaster in one piece.

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