Joint UN study sheds light on plight of millions of displaced in Colombia

Displaced indigenous children in Colombia

11 May 2005 – A long-running civil war in Colombia has forced millions of people from their homes, and a study compiled by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says they need more help than ever, especially those living in urban environments.

While the grave humanitarian repercussions of Colombia's internal conflict have shaped daily life for millions of people for 40 years – the country now hosts the world's third-largest population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) – it has been difficult for the Government and humanitarian organizations to provide them with adequate assistance.

The report by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the ICRC is an attempt to remedy that situation, and is based on a joint assessment of food and basic needs in six Colombian provinces. It aims to provide solid data on displaced people's social and economic situations, and to improve overall efforts to provide assistance.

While the findings do not cover the country's entire displaced population, WFP and ICRC say they do reflect certain general tendencies: lack of a steady income; inadequate housing, health services and education; and poor hygiene and sanitation all exacerbate food and economic insecurity. According to the report, displaced families living in urban environments, which face the greatest risks and difficulties in adapting to their new circumstances, are especially vulnerable.

"This study will let us define a baseline for all the actions we are going to develop," says WFP's Colombia Director, Peter Goossens. "This joint study…will let us work in a better, more focused and in a more coordinated way to provide assistance to displaced people in the country."

The data collected show that displaced families spend 58 per cent of their scant resources on food, most of the rest on housing and public services such as water, electricity and gas, and only 6 per cent and 3 per cent, respectively, on health and education. The study also points out that the Colombian Government must ensure that displaced persons receive humanitarian aid both during and after an emergency.

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