President Evo Morales officially declared months of deadly flooding a national disaster, committing some US$50 million (EUR38 million) to the crisis that killed 35 people and affected some 72,000 families.
"The situation is very dramatic," Morales said at a news conference in La Paz Wednesday after a helicopter trip over the wide stretch of the country's eastern lowlands that is still underwater. "There were houses out there in the rural areas where there wasn't even anywhere to land a helicopter and drop off food and medicine."
At the tail end of a rainy season supercharged by the climate phenomenon known as El Nino, months of heavy rains have swamped a vast floodplain running from the Bolivian Andes north to the Amazon basin. The flooding has drowned some 22,500 head of cattle and destroyed an estimated 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) of cropland.
Hardest hit are the eastern states of Beni and Santa Cruz, home to both Morales' most vocal opposition and much of the agricultural land he intends to redistribute as part of his sweeping land reform program.
Morales had originally hesitated to declare the floods a national disaster in part because of a potential legal loophole in his land reform law, passed last November with the aim of setting aside as much as a fifth of the country's territory for Bolivia's poor.
The law grants Morales' government the power to expropriate land deemed idle or fraudulently obtained. But it also contains a clause indefinitely exempting declared disaster areas from the government's biannual land inspections.
Local leaders in Beni and Santa Cruz, long opponents of Morales' land reform, had sought a broad disaster declaration that according to some interpretations of the law would have exempted their entire states from the inspections, even areas unaffected by the floods.
But federal officials on Wednesday were drawing up a list of the areas to be included in the disaster declaration limiting its scope despite its "national" tag and leaving its impact on the land reform program uncertain, reports AP.
Floodwaters on Wednesday slowly rose in the outskirts of Trinidad, the Beni state capital 390 kilometers (240 miles) northeast of La Paz.
Morales has ordered plans to evacuate the city of 90,000 people, but civil defense officials have said that a slightly raised highway ringing the city center will likely be enough to keep the water at bay.