The only certain thing about natural disasters is that they will strike again. Only three months after Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America, a severe earthquake struck Colombia, causing more than 1,000 deaths and serious property damage in communities in the country's central coffee-growing region.
It was all too familiar--the weary, anguished faces, the inevitable logistical problems of getting help to the victims, the outpouring of international support.
But this time there was something new. While the IDB has always come to the aid of member countries in times of emergency, after Mitch it decided that this assistance should be made available more rapidly. So last November the Bank approved a new policy for making large emergency loans for natural disaster relief without going through the normal time-consuming analysis and approval process. As a result, on Februay 19, less than four weeks after the earthquake, Colombian President Andrés Pastrana was able to sign a $20 million IDB loan to help affected communities clean up debris, stabilize damaged structures, build temporary housing and repair damaged infrastructure.
In addition, the Bank will make available $100-$150 million for reconstruction needs by redirecting funds from loans that the IDB had previously approved for Colombia but which have not yet been fully disbursed.
These are modest sums, given the scale of the tragedy. But they will help speed the process of rebuilding homes--and lives.