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Responding to the humanitarian needs of indigenous communities in Colombia’s Amazon Trapeze

15 juil 2020


The city of Leticia, Colombia. Credit: UNICEF/Diego López

By Veronique Durroux-Malpartida, Head of the Information Unit in OCHA ROLAC

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the weaknesses of health systems and the plight of particularly vulnerable groups around the world. Indigenous peoples, including those in Latin America, are facing several challenges that threaten their very survival. People living in remote areas along the Amazon river have witnessed the highest transmission rates in the country, partially due to their insufficient access to basic health and sanitation services.  

“It’s worrying to see the vulnerability of these populations, mainly indigenous, in a region where there is limited institutional presence and significant logistical challenges,” says Claudia Rodriguez Burrell, the head of OCHA in Colombia. “The needs assessment mission we were able to deploy in the Amazonas department in May evidenced the multiple needs and challenges communities in the region are facing. We are pleased a first joint UN and INGO response was rapidly mobilized, but much more needs to be done.”

The OCHA/Mecanismo Intersectorial de Respuesta en Emergencias (MIRE) Consortium evaluation mission in some rural areas of the so-called Amazon Trapeze, which has registered the highest infection rates in Latin America, found that more than 21,000 people from 54 communities had compounded multisectoral needs related to access to sanitation, health and food. Among these, 19 communities along the Amazon river lacked access to health services and clean water. Urban centres, where many people from the area – including from neighbouring countries – seek access to basic services, also require humanitarian action.

Leticia, Colombia. Credit: Mayor's Office of Leticia

Although most indigenous groups have put protocols in place to stop the spread of the virus in their communities, the mission saw first-hand the scope of their needs, that require urgent support given the lack of health-care response and facilities in the region. In providing a first response, the UN in Colombia delivered medical supplies including ventilators, oxygen tanks and medicine, hygiene kits, more than 44 metric tons of food, and is installing handwashing posts in select locations in Leticia.

“We will also deploy an antenna to the area to facilitate monitoring and response coordination,” explains Rodríguez Burrell. “We are committed to helping the most vulnerable, but we need more international solidarity to be able to respond to those in need.”