Forty years of conflict in Colombia and growing economic difficulties have led to a serious deterioration in the basic living conditions of several sectors of the population, in particular those affected by the conflict (internally displaced people and host communities).
According to various estimates, between 1.8 and 3 million Colombians have been displaced since 1985, making them the third largest internally displaced population in the world. As the majority of the displaced cannot return to their place of origin, located in conflict-prone areas, they tend to flock to the poverty belts around the major towns and cities. There, they often face considerable difficulties when adapting to urban environments.
Exposure to crime, lack of stable income, insecure housing, lack of access to health and education services, and poor sanitation are all factors that make displaced households increasingly vulnerable to food and livelihood insecurity. In coordination with the relevant authorities, the ICRC continues to support IDPs in rural and urban areas. In 2005, the organization has budgeted to assist 90,000 people in 2005.
This document reports on the outcome of a joint project by the ICRC and the World Food Programme (WFP) that began in July 2004 in Bogotá, Colombia. It is one of the first times that the two organizations, while pursuing their distinctive mandates (the WFP as the UN agency for food aid and the ICRC in the independent role conferred to it by the Geneva Conventions and additional Protocols), have worked together in the area of needs assessment.
Six departments of Colombia were chosen as the sample for the assessment: Antioquia, Caqueta, Choco, Cundinamarca, Cesar/Guajira, and Norte de Santander. The data collection was undertaken by the WFP and the ICRC in partnership with a national consultancy firm, Econometria.
The survey showed that, on average, 58% of an displaced household's monthly expenditure goes on food. After displacement, rural farming populations no longer have access to their primary asset – land. They can no longer grow their own food and must buy much of what they consume. Their income, however, is limited as it is hard for them to find work in cities, given that their skills are not easily transferable. While procuring food is of course important, this has negative effects for the household, as resources that would otherwise be used for education or health are increasingly being diverted towards purchasing food. This is a serious concern in a society where nearly two-thirds of the population are under 18. The current difficulties of the displaced households can limit the opportunities of future generations to escape poverty and destitution.
While it is not able to address certain fundamental problems faced by internally displaced people (IDPs), such as poverty, violence, or lack of social integration, humanitarian assistance, by bolstering IDP coping mechanisms in the early stages, can contribute to the implementation of sustainable solutions, provided clear and adapted policies and programmes are put into practice by the government. All the same, longer-term dependency solely on humanitarian assistance should be avoided.
Based on the results of the survey, the ICRC and the WFP have been able to present the Colombian authorities responsible for dealing with IDPs with an overview of the current situation and to recommend practical solutions for improving IDP living conditions. This will enable the Colombian authorities and other humanitarian organizations to better adapt the support they provide.
The ICRC and the WFP believe that, although government policies to protect the civilian population exist, they need to be more thoroughly implemented. Furthermore, the mechanisms in place for assisting the displaced need to be strengthened and adapted to enable IDP households to get back on their feet, both economically and socially.
There are still too many barriers to their gaining access to basic social services; these need to be removed and the focus and coverage of current social-protection programmes should be widened to enable displaced populations to benefit.
Given the loss of livelihood when rural populations are displaced to urban areas, and the difficulty in affording education, methods of delivering humanitarian assistance should focus on human-capital development. Training for adults to build up a new skills-set can help improve livelihood security among IDP households.