By Rosaleen Cunningham
Photo: Liliana Gomez
Days of torrential rain have brought widespread flooding to the north of Colombia, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 20 people. Around 150 people are missing.
The government of Colombia has declared a state of emergency in Santa Lucia and Bello.
Susi Taylor is Country Programme Director for HelpAge International in Colombia. Here, she describes the situation:
"HelpAge visited the displaced community of Manpujam in the municipality of Maria la Baja yesterday. This is the worst affected of the four communities we work in with our partners, Fundación Red Desarrollo y Paz de los Montes de María.
Identifying older people in need
"We are still assessing the numbers affected. However, older people have told us their immediate needs are food and basic household items, such as mattresses, blankets and wellington boots.
"We spoke to Estebana and Sebastián, an older couple who live in Manpujam. Their home is currently surrounded by mud. To make ends meet, they usually collect firewood to sell but with the rains the wood is so wet it is impossible to sell.
"Estebana and Sebastian are active members of Manpujam's older citizen's monitoring group, which is supported by HelpAge.
"The group had previously conducted a census of their community's older population, to map out their access to basic services. This will now be used to rapidly identify those most in need of emergency support."
Ongoing work with displaced communities
The community of Manpujam was displaced en masse in 2000 because of threats from illegal armed groups.
Community members are currently in the process of either claiming back their land, or gaining land entitlements in their new community.
Manpujam's older citizen's monitoring group is lobbying local authorities to improve older people's access to health services. They are also pushing for better financial assistance for older people.
Rains will continue
"In the past three months, more than 900,000 people have lost their homes and livelihoods because of the flooding. The rains are predicted to continue until mid-January, bringing even more widespread damage," says Susi.
"HelpAge is also trying to get help to another community, Libertad, in the municipality of San Onofre. However, bridges have been washed away and at the moment it is impossible to get through."