The current administration under President Manuel Santos, elected in August 2010, is working to diversify its foreign relations beyond its historically close ties with the US. Colombia has sought to position itself as a political player in global issues, such as the reconstruction in Haiti, and has applied for OECD membership. Although it is a middle-income country, Colombia is still affected by sharp social inequality and poverty. Nearly 45 per cent of the population lives under the national poverty line and 16 per cent in absolute poverty, living on less than $1.25 per day. The Administration has sought to address social inequality and the conflict’s aftermath by passing legislation that aims to compensate up to 4 million conflict victims through economic compensation, land repatriation, and truth and justice.
Official Development Aid (ODA) to Colombia is significant, but only a fraction is earmarked for humanitarian assistance. ODA in 2009 was $1.1 billion, of which $99 million or 9 per cent was earmarked for humanitarian aid. Colombia is developing a strategy of South-South cooperation that includes disaster risk reduction and response. President Santos publicly recognized the existence of an internal armed conflict soon after taking office in 2010. He also indicated a willingness to negotiate with the guerrilla groups on the condition that they stop kidnapping, child recruitment and use of landmines, and they release child soldiers and all abducted military staff and civilians.
In recent years, the Colombian military has significantly weakened the traditional guerrilla groups, pushing them deeper into rural, mostly mountainous areas. Following FARC launching an offensive, particularly along the Pacific coast and in the north-east (Arauca and Norte de Santander), clashes with the military intensified in 2011. Overall figures indicate a deterioration of security conditions in many areas throughout 2010, particularly regarding conflict-related civilian casualties, mass displacements and massacres. Violence also increased ahead of the October 2011 local and regional elections. From January to July there were 41 murders, six kidnappings and 87 threats targeting local candidates.
Good cooperation exists between the international humanitarian community and national authorities. Cooperation increased during the 2010/2011 flood response, with UN work complementing the national response for flood-affected IDPs in remote areas. Strong working relations are established with key state counterparts involved in complex emergency response, such as Acción Social, PAICMA, Ombudsman’s Office, Ministry of Interior, Family Welfare Institute, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Education.
The Humanitarian Situation
Conflict-related assistance and protection needs are aggravated by increasingly frequent natural disasters. Armed conflict and drug-related violence cause widespread violations of International Humanitarian Law and human rights. The armed conflict varies in intensity across regions. Along the Pacific coast, the south-west and in the Venezuelan border areas it has intensified since 2009. New and heavily armed groups are present in urban and rural areas. They increasingly fight between themselves and with the traditional guerrilla groups over strategic (drug) corridors. These groups regularly target human-rights defenders, trade unionists, teachers and displaced people involved in land-restitution processes. This context presents the following humanitarian challenges:
Since 1996, the Government has registered 3.7 million IDPs (unofficial estimates are closer to 5.2 million), with an average of 200,000 new IDPs per year. Advanced legal instruments and a considerable assistance apparatus enable the Government to provide registered IDPs with temporary aid and transit them into social programmes. While the authorities point to a decrease in IDP numbers in recent years (332,000 in 2007 compared with 134,000 in 2010), the number of people claiming to have been displaced shows a steady trend (367,000 in 2007 and 304,000 in 2010). On average, 40 per cent of those filing for IDP status are denied and therefore do not receive Government assistance. An estimated 23 per cent, mainly in rural areas, never file for state assistance, as Government support structures are exclusively located in urban areas. Displacement has traditionally occurred from rural to urban areas, although intra-urban displacement is increasing, especially in the cities of Medellín and Cali. Protracted displacements of a few individuals or families are less visible than mass-scale displacements, yet these drop-by-drop displacements account for more than 50 per cent of total IDP figures. An estimated 83 per cent of the displaced in 2010 were Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, with remote areas such as the Pacific coast particularly affected. Many IDPs return spontaneously, they are often unaccompanied and in insecure conditions. This poses multiple challenges for assistance and for any lasting humanitarian solutions.
Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups are more frequently caught in hostilities. They are also affected by mobility restrictions due to mines and restrictions imposed by armed groups, land expropriation, targeted killings and sexual and gender-based violence. According to the Government and the UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous people, the situation since 2009 has deteriorated to the point that the survival and culture of at least 34 indigenous communities are at risk of extinction (departments of Arauca, Cauca, Vaupés, Nariño and Chocó). Targeted killings of Afro-Colombian IDPs, land-restitution leaders and other victims’ groups are on the rise. The number of massacres (killings of more than four people) increased by 40 per cent in 2010 (close to 200 victims), and by another 30 per cent in the first half of 2011. In the lead up to the 2011 local elections in the autumn, a sharp increase in targeted killings and threats against candidates for mayor and local councils were registered. With nearly two thirds of the territory affected by mines, Colombia has the world’s highest annual rate of landmine victims. In 2010 there were 527 victims of mines and explosive remnants of war recorded. Non-state armed groups continue to forcibly recruit children at an average age of 11. The first Secretary-General’s report on the situation of children in the Colombian armed conflict was issued in August 2009.
Humanitarian actors face access constraints associated with ongoing hostilities, the presence of landmines and in some cases the direct threat of non-state armed groups to humanitarian operations. Up to 30,000 people were confined in 2010 for at least 10 days or more due to mobility restrictions imposed and land mines.
The HCT has expressed concern over the risk of associating humanitarian work with military and political objectives. It has reiterated the importance of principled humanitarian actors in dialogues with the Ministry of Defence and Acción Social. The Secretary-General’s Policy Committee (7 June 2010) and ECHA (18 June 2010) tasked the UNCT and the HC to increase humanitarian advocacy, including through principle-based outreach and coordination with military actors (civil-military coordination).
From April 2010 to June 2011, devastating floods affected 4 million people. While the Government mobilized significant response resources ($2.7 billion), it faced challenges in channelling and programming these resources at local levels, particularly in remote and conflict-related areas. This resulted in an estimated 40 per cent of the affected people in some areas not having received any assistance one year after the floods’ onset. International actors are therefore responding to address access and technical gaps in the flood response. Colombia is also prone to earthquakes. The Government is open to technical support and holds frequent evacuation exercises in major cities. In November 2010, OCHA headquarters and INSARAG supported an earthquake simulation in Bogotá with the National System for Prevention and Response to Disasters, the HCT, clusters and humanitarian donors.
The Humanitarian Strategy and Response
The Secretary-General’s July 2010 Policy Committee recommended that the HCT develop a Common Humanitarian Framework (CHF) to strengthen humanitarian advocacy with the Government. The CHF was developed in 2011 and represents the first common humanitarian strategy since 2005. The CHF focuses the HCT’s work on people doubly affected by the conflict and natural disasters, particularly in remote border areas and difficult-to-access areas. The CHF establishes the following priorities for the humanitarian community:
(1) Improve capacity to identify response gaps and deliver assistance in complementarity to the State, particularly in areas difficult to access.
(2) Ensure quality of assistance.
(3) Promote a differentiated approach and render more visible the situation of the most vulnerable, such as indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, women and children.
The HCT Colombia comprises 11 UN agencies and 35 INGOs. ECHO, MSF and ICRC participate as observers. Eight clusters have been established at capital level. The HCT guides the work of nine local humanitarian teams in Nariño, Putumayo, Cauca y Valle del Cauca, Chocó, Antioquia, Montes de María, Córdoba and Arauca y Norte de Santander. Clusters currently have different capacities and only two have dedicated cluster leads. The CHF outlines cluster responsibilities and cluster response plans, including provisions for monitoring and priority setting, based on assessed needs. The CHF links to the CCA/UNDAF, which the Secretary-General reviewed and re-endorsed during his visit to Colombia in June 2011. This framework places emphasis on poverty reduction, the rule of law, and human security and conflict-sensitive development. It includes a commitment to link humanitarian action to longer-term, durable solutions.
The humanitarian community will work to ensure that time-critical and needs-based humanitarian assistance is provided to IDPs, respecting minimum standards and humanitarian and human rights principles, including gender and age considerations. The HCT will need to implement more mechanisms to raise attention to and assist confined communities. Humanitarian partners will provide technical assistance and support to developing the national policy on mine action (including prevention and victim assistance), advocating the respect of humanitarian principles and adherence to international de-mining standards.
Humanitarian action in Colombia is financially supported by pooled funds (CERF and ERF), and there is increasing capacity to mobilize funds for general disaster situations. However, overall humanitarian funding is limited. In 2010, the approximate amount programmed for humanitarian operations was $200 million, with an estimated 60 per cent shortfall (about $120 million). Funding benefits about 1,200,000 vulnerable people per year. The CHF is a planning and advocacy tool that could seek to mobilize resources in 2012.
The most-likely scenario underpinning the CHF is a continuation of the current situation, with conflict and drug-related violence and displacement persisting at current trends. Armed groups will maintain territorial and social control in localized areas, causing serious humanitarian consequences in the form of displacements and confinements, as well as through killings and threats against community or victim leaders and public officials. The impact of natural disasters is expected to maintain its trend, especially on the most vulnerable populations located in remote areas. The HCT plans to strengthen advocacy for principled humanitarian response while seeking to improve dialogue and working relations with Government institutions, civil society and community-based organizations. The CHF will be shared with the Government, and humanitarian action will be adjusted to address priority response gaps without compromising visibility.
Interventions will focus on the departments of Córdoba, Norte del Cauca, Arauca, Meta, Putumayo, Guaviare, Caquetá, Costa Pacífica, Nariño. However, due to the changing dynamic of the conflict and of violence, the HCT has decided not to be exclusive in its geographical prioritization and will monitor the context to ensure flexibility and adequate response based on needs.
As an example, as far as education is concerned, the Ministry of National Education, in its annual report for 2009, notes that in Colombia there were 1,027,057 children, adolescents and youth between 5 and 16 years old out of school. These children, adolescents and school youth are largely in three population groups: 1) IDPs 2) rural inhabitants and 3) population under age 5 (early childhood). Food security and nutrition are also concernsGlobal malnutrition for children under 5 is 3.4% and 5.7“% for children between 0 and 6 months. This situation is particularly severe in the case of Afro-Colombian communities in regions such as Chocó and the Pacific coast. According to the Instituto Colombiano de bienestar Familiar (ICBF), 41% of households were facing food insecurity in 2010, an increase of 2% since 2005. The conflict also limits access to food and/or the capacity to produce locally. The education and the food security cluster include in their respective work a focus on assisting confined communities.
The Government has stated that the military’s demining battalions can only clear 42% of the contaminated areas. Civilian deminers are expected to clear the remaining 58%. Humanitarian organizations have raised concerns over the extent of involvement in civilian demining in a context of ongoing conflict, and have called for the need to ensure neutrality and impartiality. As of October 2011, the specificities of humanitarian demining by civilian organizations were expected to be regulated by upcoming national legislation.