Colombia President ready to expropriate private properties to relocate families affected by harsh winter and heavy rains

The president of Colombia instructed the use of a law that enables acquisition and expropriation of private properties in order to relocate families because of the intense rainfall caused by El Niña that lead to the declaration of a state of national disaster.

Gustavo Petro, president of Colombia, declaring a state of national disaster
Gustavo Petro, president of Colombia, declaring a state of national disaster on November 1, with the director of the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management Javier Pava | © UNGRD

Colombia President Gustavo Petro instructed to use a law that enables the acquisition and expropriation of private real estate and lands so that people can relocate in light of a harsh winter and intense rainfall causing major floods and landslides.

Javier Pava, the director of the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD) said on November 22 after a meeting with the president that Law 1520 could be used. In force since 2012, it determines national disaster risk management and includes articles about the expropriation of lands and properties. Created under a right-wing administration, the use of the law would be a first in the country.

The State can acquire all or parts of real estate that are essential to carry out the emergency plan, by direct negotiation with the owners or by expropriation through an administrative process with financial compensation.

According to the law, expropriation and payment of the compensation are done within 30 days. Once the administration formulates a purchase offer, whose terms are made public during five days, the owner has five business days to negotiate or accept the terms. In any way, any commercial property becomes out of business after three days, and any permit or operating license is removed. If an agreement is not found, the administrative process should take a few more days for the expropriation.

The Geographic Institute Agustín Codazzi, the government agency dealing with cartography and national cadastral infrastructure, sets the value of compensation and maximum acquisition price.

But authorities of the country that elected a leftist president in June for the first time, clarified this is only in light of the emergency situation that Colombia is facing. According to Mr Pava, the goal is to enable the relocation of people, temporarily or sometimes permanently, affected by the current weather conditions into places with decent conditions instead of providing shelter in schools and city halls.

Two thirds of all municipalities of Colombia affected by intense rainfall

On November 1, the president declared the state of national disaster until at least the end of the year because of the intense rainfall, floods and landslides caused by La Niña. La Niña is the colder counterpart of atmospheric phenomenon El Niño which can take place every few years and usually causes heavy rainfall in South America.

Heavy rains in the last four months affected more than two thirds of the municipalities of the country, particularly in the center, north and west of Colombia.

According to the UNGRD, 3,794 emergency situations have been recorded in 881 cities across all 32 departments of Colombia between August 1 and November 13. This was already more than during 2010 or 2011 when La Niña caused a lot of damage.

As of mid-November, the rainy season led to the death of 268 people already, and 61 people were missing. More than 700,000 people were affected, 6,700 homes were destroyed and 116,000 houses were damaged. Hundreds of bridges, schools and other public facilities were damaged.

Heavy rains are expected to last until March with lower intensity in 2023 but the Institute of Meteorology (IDEAM) forecasts precipitation volumes will be 30% more important in December than the historical level of 30 years ago. The Andean region, which contains most of the country’s urban areas including Medellin and Bogóta, and the Caribbean region should be particularly affected in December.

President Petro in a speech on November 22 after a meeting with community leaders in Barrancabermeja, a city on the banks of the Magdalena river which is expected to rise to historical levels, said the two urgent tasks are to deal with hunger and the relocation of people. “We are now looking at dealing with the emergency. It is no longer about risk prevention, Mr Petro said. It is an urgency that creates hunger.” Many communities have become isolated but need to receive aid.

The government unlocked 2.1 billion pesos (428 million dollars) to deal with the emergency situation provisioned for the year by the previous administration and hopes to add more budget for next year.

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