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EPM announced this morning (May 4) that -- following years of efforts – engineers have finally achieved permanent closure of a problematic auxiliary diversion tunnel (“GAD” in Spanish initials) that collapsed in 2018 and subsequently threatened to destroy the US$5 billion “Hidroituango” hydroelectric project here in Antioquia.

“This is a milestone for the stability of the project and mitigation of risks for the communities located downstream of the future hydroelectric generation plant,” according to EPM.
“With concrete plugs 23 meters long and 14 meters high, the GAD is permanently closed.”

Along with continuing reconstruction progress inside the dam's machine room, EPM is now confident of “starting to generate energy with the first two [power] units in the second half of 2022,” added EPM general manager Jorge Andrés Carrillo.

According to EPM, “closing the GAD was not an easy task, since it was naturally clogged [with rubble and Cauca River water], with the risk that it could unblock naturally at any time.”

So, during December 2019, the 300-ton blockage gates for each section of the GAD were lowered, which allowed for partial plugging. However, “despite this barrier, at least eight cubic meters per second of water continued to pass through a discharge system installed in the upper part of the gates, a considerable quantity that did not allow safe access for machinery and personnel” to enable permanent closure, according to EPM.

“To circumvent the situation, a maneuver called bypass was developed, which consisted of installing a piping system that allowed the water that entered through the GAD to be diverted to an intermediate discharge [tunnel] and, from there, to the spillway basin to rejoin the channel leading to the Cauca River.

“At the beginning of 2022, once this part of the GAD was dry, the auxiliary gates (right and left) were accessed to build the two concrete plugs -- 23 meters long and 14 meters high,” a job that took 600 workers and engineers four months to complete, according to EPM.

The GAD initially was constructed to divert the waters of the Cauca River while two other diversion tunnels were deliberately plugged in order to enable the required GAD to take-over the diversion job.

“In March 2018, when the process of pre-plugging the right tunnel began, the flow of the Cauca River continued to flow only through the auxiliary diversion tunnel, GAD,” according to EPM.

“This auxiliary tunnel was designed and built for temporary use. It was planned to operate only from September 2017 to July 2018, when it was planned to start filling the reservoir [behind the dam]. Afterward, it would be closed permanently.

“Its operation was interrupted as of April 28, 2018 when it became clogged and then reopened naturally on several occasions, which caused sudden flooding downstream and the destruction of the two closure gates that were already installed at that point.”

As a result, EPM rushed to close the GAD with temporary measures -- and accelerated completion of the dam along with the dam’s engineered spillway, enabling the Cauca River to flow over the spillway -- until reconstruction of the machine room will allow that water to flow through the power turbines, as originally intended.


Colombia President Ivan Duque and Health Minister Fernando Ruiz jointly announced this morning (April 25) that the face-mask mandate aiming to stifle  the spread of Covid-19 will ease starting May 1, 2022 – but only in well-ventilated areas where at least 70% of the local population has gotten at least two vaccine doses and 40% have gotten “booster” (typically three) doses.

In addition, people won’t be required to show their “MiVacuna” Covid-19 vaccination card at entries to leisure sites and “mass” activities, according to the official government statement.

However, the mask mandate will continue “in classrooms, offices, churches, public transport, commercial establishments and places without direct ventilation,” according to the bulletin.

“These measures validate a message: we have been fighting this pandemic, not only doubling Intensive Care Units, strengthening the health system, but also achieving a massive, safe, free and equitable vaccination system,” President Duque added.

To aid public education, the Health Ministry will publish an official list of municipalities where local populations have achieved the 70% vaccination rate against Covid-19.

As for travelers 18-years-and-older visiting Colombia, “the recommendation is that they arrive in Colombia with a complete double-dose, or, in the case of the Janssen vaccine, a single-dose,” according to the bulletin.

“Those [travelers] who do not have complete schemes or are not vaccinated will require a negative PCR test that does not exceed 72 hours and may also present an antigen test that does not exceed 48 hours” before arriving in Colombia, President Duque added.

To date, Colombia’s Covid-19 vaccination coverage exceeds 83% of the population for first- and single-doses, 69.2% for complete (minimum two-dose) applications and 34.7% for booster (typically three-dose) regimes, Health Minister Fernando Ruiz added.

While Colombia had initially created 2,700 special points-of-vaccination against Covid-19 nationwide, “today there are 4,700 points, since vaccinations are being done in the country’s hospitals and clinics,” Ruiz added.

“In Colombia we have spent more than COP$15 trillion [US$3.8 billion] on this pandemic, and the health system was able to respond. Those [Covid-19] patients who wound-up in an intensive care unit [ICU] paid practically zero, and that is not everywhere. In other countries people had to pay millions to be in an ICU.”

In addition, the Health Ministry has now settled massive, historic debts that had been choking the finances of hundreds of hospitals and clinics nationwide – clinics that couldn’t collect anything from indigent patients or else didn’t get paid by some deliberately negligent or bankrupt health-insurance networks (“EPS” in Spanish initials), although many of those wobbly EPS networks have since been liquidated, he added.


Colombia President Ivan Duque and Antioquia Governor Anibal Gaviria jointly announced today (April 23) at a dedication ceremony that the long-awaited “Puerto Antioquia” ocean-freight port linking Medellin and other major Colombia cities to the Atlantic is now starting construction and due for start-up in 2025.

“Puerto Antioquia is an historic megaproject that will allow us to promote the construction of the social fabric and strengthen the ocean freight, agro-industrial and tourist vocations of the lands of Urabá,” Gov. Gaviria stated.

The new port near Turbo, Antioquia -- carrying an estimated capex of US$627 million -- will be linked to the under-construction “Mar 1” and :Mar 2” highways westward from Medellin as well as major existing highway connections to Colombia’s coffee region and other cities including the capital, Bogota.

The port initially expects to handle 4.5 million tons of freight per year, including 3 million tons of agricultural products and 1.5 million tons of general freight, according to the developers.

Principal investors include global shipping giant CMA Terminals (22% share); Pio S.A.S. (11.1%); Eiffage Infrastructures S.A.S (22%); Termotécnica Coindustrial (5.17%); banana exporter Uniban (15.51%); Agrícola Santamaría (5.69%); Banafrut (4.14%); CI Tropical (6.21%); and Unión Para la Infraestructura (8.21%),

Project financing packages are coming from the privately held Financiera de Desarrollo Nacional (FDN) group, including a US$103.7 million package involving JP Morgan with loan guarantee from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

Another part of the new funding comes from the Inter-American Development Bank Group with US$200 million, plus US$30 million from Colombia’s Bancoldex import-export promotion agency and US$60 million from the Davivienda bank group here, according to FDN.

Aside from debt finance (59.6% of the total capex), the remaining 40.4% of capex (equivalent to US$280 million) is to be provided by the project partners.

The port is designed to handle ships of up to 366 meters in length, handling bulk products including coffee, grains, plantains and bananas, as well as general and containerized freight including automobiles.

Port developers estimate that the project will attract another US$720 million in nearby private investments from some 11,000 companies involved in freight logistics, customs, warehousing, trucking, maritime services, hotels, restaurants and many others.


Colombia’s Health Ministry revealed today (March 25) that nationwide vaccinations against Covid-19 have now totaled 80.2 million, with 34.6 million people now fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, intensive care unit (ICU) occupation caused by Covid-19 cases has plummeted, enabling many more Colombians to have rapid access for other medical cases.

Of Colombia’s total 10,789 ICU beds available, only 201 of those beds today are occupied by people with Covid-19, according to Health Ministry vice-minister Germán Escobar Morales.

Meanwhile, Colombia continues to expand its Covid-19 vaccination campaign to various groups still lacking a second shot, as well as vaccinations for younger age groups.

Current vaccination rates are hovering around 300,000 doses daily, he said.

“The general panorama shows a positive trend in epidemiological terms and in hospital occupation, and in terms of vaccination, coverage is growing at a moderate pace, but we still face challenges in closing gaps” among younger age groups and anyone still lacking a second shot, Escobar added.


The department of Antioquia -- including Medellin and all its neighboring cities-- has just exceeded 10 million vaccinations against Covid-19, with 67% of the population here now completely vaccinated (in most cases, at least two doses).

This follows on the heels of a simultaneous announcement by Colombia President Ivan Duque that Covid-19 vaccinations nationwide already exceed 80% of the population, with a 70% complete-vaccination-rate fast approaching.

According to the February 18 joint announcement from Colombia’s Health Ministry, the Antioquia departmental government, Universidad Nacional, One Health Genomic Laboratory and Medellin-based electric-power distribution giant ISA (which cooperated in the efforts), Covid-19 vaccinations here have achieved better-than-world-class standards in just 12 months – often matching or even exceeding North American rates.

“With about 277 vaccination posts throughout the department, Antioquia has managed to apply up to 74,386 doses in a single day,” according to the joint announcement.

Antioquia Health Secretary Lina María Bustamante Sánchez added that “we have 83% coverage in first doses and 67% with a complete schedule,” resulting in a dramatic avoidance of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths – the latter almost exclusively occurring among the non-vaccinated.

“Where we have had the best rate of vaccination is in the Valle de Aburrá [Medellin metro], Oriente and Suroeste,” Bustamante explained. “In the most remote regions, with problems of public order and displacement, such as Bajo Cauca and Urabá, strategies were created to reach these territories. For that, we have had the alliance with ISA and Universidad Nacional, including a mobile vaccination unit and displacements by helicopters for special vaccination campaigns,” she added.

Commenting on the one-year anniversary of the vaccination campaigns, President Duque added that the government has already spent COP$4.5 trillion (US$1.14 billion) acquiring 104 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, which are freely given to all residents here.

Since February 17, 2021, when the Covid-19 immunization process began, the national government has already supplied 75.7 million doses, resulting in 71% of all persons over 30 years of age now completely vaccinated.

Vaccinations also have reached the two-dose completion target for 51% of Colombians from 10-to-19-years-old, plus another 28% of children three-to-nine-years-old, according to a February 12 report from the Health Ministry. Childhood vaccinations are now rapidly increasing as Colombia returns to in-person schooling nearly everywhere.


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About Medellin Herald

Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

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