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Cablegate: Colombia Fighting Forest Fires with Usg Help

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #0502/01 0402101
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY AD1FF312 TOQ8084-695)
R 092100Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2693
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA

UNCLAS BOGOTA 000502

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
C O R R E C T E D COPY CAPTION
1TFK@STATE.GOV, WHA/CAR FOR V DE PIRRO AND
IO/UNP FOR B NARANJO AND M GARUCKIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID EAGR ECON PGOV PREL CO
SUBJECT: COLOMBIA FIGHTING FOREST FIRES WITH USG HELP

REF: BOGOTA 100; BOGOTA 167

1. (U) Summary. Since early January, the USG has assisted the GOC
respond effectively to forest fires caused by an atypical lack of
rain. Experts expect the fires to spread during a continued
drought in February and March. USG assistance to Colombia totals
$650,000, notably $515,000 of donated U.S. Forest Service funds and
equipment. On February 2, a U.S. military cargo plane transported
U.S. fire-fighting equipment to Palanquero Air Force Base(a base
identified in the Defense Cooperation Agreement). U.S.-donated
equipment has reached 88 firefighting teams in the most distressed
areas across the country. To date, 716 fires have affected 321
municipalities in 23 of 32 departments, burning an estimated 26,000
hectares. The fires are damaging environmentally-sensitive land
such as native forests and highland "paramos." End Summary.
SCOPE OF U.S. ASSISTANCE

-------------------------

2. (U) Forest fires that began in late December due to unusually
dry conditions from El Ni????o led the Colombian Ministry of Interior
and Justice to issue a departmental and district-level Disaster
Decree for 11 departments and Bogota, D.C. on January 8. The GOC
requested USG assistance as the fires spread and exceeded the GOC's
fire-fighting capabilities.

3. (U) The total value of USG firefighting assistance to Colombia
is approximately $650,000. The Ambassador released $50,000 in
Disaster Assistance Authority funds on January 10 to provide
technical assistance and provide supplies and equipment to regional
firefighting teams (ref A). OFDA gave an additional $50,000 for
the procurement of local supplies, and the U.S. Forest Service
provided $515,000 in funds and fire-fighting equipment and tools.

4. (U) A U.S. military cargo plane on February 2 transported U.S.
fire-fighting equipment to Palanquero (a base identified in the
Defense Cooperation Agreement). National media -- Caracol and RCN
-- reported on the delivery of the equipment, which GOC authorities
and MILGROUP, the General Services Office, and OFDA distributed to
25 departments and 10 national parks. The Ambassador and the
Colombian Minister of Environment highlighted this fire-fighting
cooperation on February 4 at an event publicizing ongoing
U.S.-Colombia relief assistance to Haiti (ref B). The same plane
that transported the firefighting equipment to Palanquero also
delivered Colombian humanitarian aid to Haiti.

FIRES POSE THREAT TO CITIZENS, ENVIRONMENT

------------------------------------------

5. (U) As of February 8, the fires have affected 321
municipalities in 23 departments, including southwestern Bogota.
There are 15 large-scale fires in the departments of Cundinamarca,
Boyaca, Casanare, Tolima, Arauca, and Norte de Santander and four
others under control. More fires are expected as the drought
season continues through April and May. Drought conditions have
generated water shortages in some areas, further complicating
fire-fighting efforts. Most of the fires occurred naturally, but
some are suspected to have been caused deliberately.

6. (U) One such fire has consumed 1,200 hectares of vegetation
near the tourist town of Villa de Leyva, including 800 hectares of
vegetation in the Iguaque Wildlife Sanctuary that may take 100
years to recover, according to the park's administrator.

7. (U) The Ministry of Environment stated that the most
threatened areas are Colombia's native forests as well as delicate
mountain highlands "paramos" (such as those in Las Hermosas
National Park in Tolima and Valle del Cauca and Nevados National
Park in Caldas), savannahs, and croplands. Particulate matter in
Bogota's air increased by 17% in January over 2009, which Bogota's
Environment Secretary attributes in part to the forest fires.

NEW CRISIS ACTION CENTER

------------------------

8. (SBU) The Bogota Director of Firefighters, Mauricio Toro, has
requested U.S. assistance with the review of plans and technical
recommendations for a new Crisis Action Center. The Bogota
firefighting academy is scheduled for demolition next month to make
way for a new center, which can better address forest fires and
other natural disasters. Construction, which may take one year, is
expected to commence soon. The center will first serve the greater
Bogota area and will eventually become a national center. Toro
offered workspace at the new facility for a U.S. Embassy liaison to
assist in any future crises.
BROWNFIELD

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