With the world beginning to feel the initial effects of changing weather patterns due to climate change, governments around the world are faced with immense challenges to ensure the safety of their citizens.
The lack of action from most governments and key decision-makers reflects policies that put profitability ahead of human security.
This blind and greedy agenda means the great majority of the world’s people are left defenceless.
Venezuela stands in stark contrast to this norm.
Like other countries, Venezuela has experienced first-hand extreme weather disasters of historic proportions.
In 2009, the small developing country was hit by a severe drought that brought about electricity shortages and disrupted agriculture.
In late 2010, a weeks-long deluge (the worst in 40 years) led to more than 30 deaths. More than 200,000 people were displaced due to floods and landslides. Half the country was declared to be in a state of emergency.
Throughout its history, Venezuela has been rich in resources but has suffered from great social inequality.
The pro-people reforms over the past 12 years led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela have alleviated much of this poverty. But the reality is that the country’s poorest were still left in a very vulnerable position.
Many Venezuelans still live in the barrios, many of which are situated precariously on the steep hillsides surrounding Caracas and other Venezuelan cities.
With the constant barrage of rain many of these shacks simply collapsed and, in some cases, were carried off by sudden landslides.
The country and its government were faced with two main tasks.
First, immediate assistance was needed for the people displaced by the rains. Some had their homes destroyed, while other homes had become too dangerous to return.
To this end, a total of 259 emergency shelters were erected across the country in December, catering for more than 33,000 people.
However, as the rains continued unabated the demand for emergency relief grew daily and the government carried out extra measures.
The school semester in the worst affected zones was cut short and classrooms were converted for homeless families to use. The government and the private hotel industry made an agreement, which made a further 850 rooms available.
In a gesture of solidarity with those displaced, Chavez arranged for dislocated families to move into the presidential palace, while he camped outside in the palace grounds in a tent presented to him by Libyan president Muammar el-Gadafi.
The second task the Venezuelan government now faces is to seriously address the issue of housing in Venezuela, which is one of the key reasons the rains inflicted so much harm.
By October 2010, 15 days into the crisis, the government had spent US$66 million on 372 new houses for displaced families.
When asked what his government’s priorities were for 2011, Chavez replied: “Housing, housing and more housing.”
By January 7, the government had built 2380 new living units for families that had lived for months in relief shelters.
Land from the Fort Tiuna military compound has been earmarked for public housing, and Chavez suggested land from a luxurious Caracas golf course might be used for future housing projects.
Venezuela’s National Assembly passed a bill to grant the president temporary emergency relief powers to address the specific needs of the families and communities affected by the rains.
As Venezuela’s government worked to put human needs in before corporate interests, friendly governments also provided material support for the Venezuelan people.
In particular, the Latin American countries that are part of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (including Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador) have shown their solidarity with Venezuela by sharing some of their limited resources to help those in need.
In this manner, the poorest and most vulnerable are receiving support and attention from a local and international effort, designed to uphold their basic rights and human dignity.