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Earthquake in Colombia: the tragedy of the coffee growing region. Health impact and lessons for the health sector
  1. Helena E Restrepo
  1. Carrera 2 Oeste, 11–05 Apt, 302 Cali, Colombia SA.
  1. Dr Restrepo (restrhel{at}

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The paper describes three stages of the earthquake and its consequences to health, with emphasis on the public health implications:

The first impact.
The process of the subsequent two month period (25 January–25 March).
The current situation (at April 1999) and future perspectives.

To understand the size of the devastated area, it is important to clarify that the region known as “Departmento del Quindío” corresponds, according to the political and administrative division of Colombian territory, to several small towns and its capital city, Armenia. The neighbouring city of Pereira, capital of the Departmento of Risaralda, and several towns of that and other nearby Departmentos (Valle, Tolima), were also affected, but to a lesser extent. The whole area of influence of the telluric movement is know as “Eje Cafetero” (Coffee Axes), because it is here that most Colombian Coffee, some of the best quality in the world, is produced. This area is located within the country's central chain of mountains (fig1).

Figure 1

Map of area affected by the earthquake.

Figure 10

In the meaning of dreams, the end is only the beginning. Never stop.

Figure 2

Children in camps.

Figure 3

The bandits that stole from the victims should feel like the worst.

Figure 4

Church of one of the affected towns.

Figure 5

Destruction of the central park of Calarcá.

Figure 6

Neighbourhood of Armenia.

Figure 7

Health problems are not caused by the tragedy, they are caused by your behaviour.

Figure 8

The bad memories should be hidden like waste.

Figure 9

Thank you Barcelona, Spain for your help.

Before the tragedy, Armenia had a population of 296 330 inhabitants, with the whole Departmento of Quindío having a population of approximately 500 000.

First impact

The earthquake occurred at 1 19 pm on Monday, 25 January 1999, and had an intensity of 6.2 points on the Richter scale. The focus was located in the municipality of Cordoba, 20 kilometres from Armenia, and had a depth of two to three thousand metres. Experts consider that it was this short distance from the surface that …

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  • * The advice and collaboration of sociologists from the Universidad Tecnológica of Pereira has been excellent for identifying community needs and values and for reinforcing social participation.

  • The State (Departmento) of Antioquia concentrated all its help in one town, mobilising the different kind of resources (technical, financial, etc) from diverse governmental, non-governmental and private organisations and institutions.

  • This paper was written by Helena E Restrepo, based on interviews with the Health Directors of Quindío and Armenia, Jaime Gallego (Chief of Quindío Health Institute) and Olga A Nieto (Secretary of Health of Armenia City), and on the review of reports and documents produced by their collaborators, advisors and professionals from different organisations and institutions working in the area affected by the earthquake.