Colombia: the price of closing one of its most important routes

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Having one of its most importants roads closed, which connects the east of the country with the capital, causes a huge cost for Colombia

Landslides presented in different sections of the road to the plain in Colombia

Colombia's National Route 40 is one of the main arteries of the Colombian economy. For a country in which transportation of goods is almost  made exclusively by land in the absence of alternatives such as railways, its good operation is essential. This year, however, a series of landslides have disabled the road for months, something that the national economy will surely feel.

Leer en español: ¿Cuánto le costó a Colombia el cierre de una de sus vías más importantes?

The 1,112-kilometer highway starts in the municipality of Buenaventura on the Colombian Pacific coast, where one of the most important ports in the country is located, and ends in the city of Puerto Carreño, very close to Venezuela's border in the Eastern Plains region. It also crosses  Bogotá, and connects it with the city of Villavicencio, a journey that used to last only three hours, but now can last up to 18.

According to Coviandes, the concessionaire responsible for the highway, the road is blocked at the height of the municipality of Guayabetal at kilometer 58 from Bogota, by some 30,000 cubic meters of rubble. According to engineers contacted by El Tiempo, the removal of this amount of material under normal conditions may take about a month, but the Minister of Transportation, Angela Maria Orozco, announced that the road would be closed for three months, as the continuous rains and the constant movement of earth do not allow the work to advance safely.

Which sectors pay the price?

The main affected are the residents of the eastern plains, who can now face shortages and high prices in food and other consumer goods because of the isolation caused by the closure of the road. But at the macro level, which sectors of the economy have suffered the most?

One of the most affected has been the agricultural sector, which not only depends on the expansions of land in the eastern plains to cultivate, but also distributes products from other parts of the country throughout the region. Jorge Bedoya, president of the Farmers Society of Colombia (SAC by its initials in spanish), considers that four branches will be the most affected: fruits, rice, poultry and swine.

Rice growers in the region are on alert because 150 thousand tons of the 300 thousand that will be produced in the July harvest could be ruined due to the impossibility of removing them from the department of Meta.

"In the Meta there is only storage capacity for 150 thousand tons, which means that it is worth taking 150 thousand more for the center of the country," said Fernando Murillo, who represents his department before the National Rice Council.

The loss of half of the rice harvest for the Meta's department can be catastrophic, so they must be taken to storage centers at any cost. That is why they are forced to use an alternative road, Villavicencio-Pajarito-Bogotá, which has 550 kilometers, 460 more than the road that is disabled.

Poultry farmers also have a lot at stake with the road's closure. According to figures from the SAC, 1,200 tons of chicken are moved every week between Villavicencio and Bogotá, while Bogota moves more than 1,300 tons of concentrate to feed the more than 5 million birds that lives in the region.

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For fruit growers, the closure is also catastrophic. The greatest impact is carried by products such as bananas, pineapples, citrus fruit and watermelon, among others harvested by the more than 5,000 fruit and vegetable producers in the department of Meta.

According to Álvaro Palacio, manager of the Hortifrutícola Association of Colombia, between 40 and 50% of the fruits grown in Meta have their final destination Bogotá, so the alarms are on with the closure of the main road to the capital .

Finally, transporters, both for people and goods, have suffered with particular force the effects of the collapse on the road. According to Juan Carlos Rodríguez, president of the Colombian Federation of Cargo Transporters (Colfecar), the losses already amount to $ 50,000 million pesos, about $ 15 million dollars.

How much has the government invested?

Given the inability of the government to reopen the road promptly, they have had to introduce a series of measures to alleviate the current disconnection situation in the llanera region. The package consists of 67 measures and will come at a cost of $ 1.2 trillion pesos, or almost $ 374 million dollars.

Among the measures introduced to mitigate the effects of the closure is a 50% reduction in the price of tolls on the alternate routes between Bogotá and Villavicencio and the introduction of a discount on the price of gasoline in the department of Meta, which it will leave the so-called 'border price' which means that the gallon will cost $ 6,500 pesos (about $ 2 dollars) instead of the $ 9,200 ($ 2,8 dollars) it cost before.

Several of the measures also seek to expand the coverage of the Bogotá-Villavicencio air route, so that there is no shortage of flights, or the prices are not inflated.

Several new credit lines will also be introduced to which the farmers and other affected workers can go to assume the cost overruns that the closure of their main connection with the center of the country brings.


LatinAmerican Post | Pedro Bernal

Translated from: "¿Cuánto le costó a Colombia el cierre de una de sus vías más importantes?"