Despite notably lower crime figures, the humanitarian situation in Colombia remains serious. Armed confrontations, though fewer in number, are becoming more intense along the Pacific coast and in areas close to the borders. This situation has resulted in complex protection issues linked to the fact that the violence has had a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities, indigenous communities and women and children. Sexual violence, threats to community leaders and sustained pressure on communities are increasingly being reported as causes of mass displacements.
The Colombian government has registered at least 2.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Local NGOs believe that the number of IDPs is much higher – possibly as high as 4.2 million. On average, over 800 persons are displaced on a daily basis because of direct or indirect violence exerted on communities and their leaders. In the first eight months of 2008, there were over 240,000 new IDPs.
Although there are no official figures on forced recruitment, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers estimates that between 7,000 to 14,000 children have been forcibly recruited by non-State armed groups in Colombia.
Under the guidance of the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC), OCHA Colombia plans to implement a number of action-oriented advocacy activities including training seminars and a common communication strategy aimed at raising awareness on humanitarian principles with the government and other local partners.
Natural disasters perennially distress the country: heavy rains, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions affected 1.5 million people in 2007 and at least 700,000 more in 2008. The impact of disasters is most harshly felt by rural communities, especially those already burdened by Colombia’s internal challenges. Emergency preparedness is at the core of the work carried out under the United Nations Emergency Technical Team (UNETT), an Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) like mechanism also involving national authorities and their ability to respond to natural disasters.
As 2009 begins, OCHA Colombia will revise national and local contingency plans with a particular focus on disasters and protection issues, especially in areas close to the borders. OCHA Colombia will ensure an effective distribution of available information products via its webpage, enhancing the analysis and decision-making capacity of all stakeholders for both prevention and response strategies.
Although the Government is the main provider of humanitarian assistance, municipal authorities have inadequate capacities to respond to emergencies. United Nations and non-UN humanitarian field presence on the ground has increased over the past two years providing complementary support to government-led response efforts, largely focusing on protection and on the provision of technical assistance. In close cooperation with the HC, OCHA Colombia will strengthen the participation of UN and non-UN actors in national and local coordination mechanisms including the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT).