Colombia’s decades-long internal conflict between paramilitaries, guerilla groups and the Colombian army has displaced massive numbers of people, with at least 4.1 million people forced from their homes, both within and across its borders, since 1985. As the Colombian government continues to pursue an aggressive counterinsurgent and counternarcotics policy, illegal groups assert control over territories and communities to conduct illicit activities and engage in acts of terror. Such acts include the use of selective assassinations, extortions and forced displacement. In addition, massive floods have inundated the country and affected more than 2.7 million people. Thousands of people still have not received basic assistance including food, water, sanitation, emergency shelter, and health care.
Current Humanitarian Situation
Conflict in Colombia has intensified along its border and as a result, between 370,000 and 500,000 refugees have left for Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama and other countries in the region. In Ecuador and Venezuela, illegal armed groups from Colombia terrorize local populations and exercise social control over entire communities. Death threats, selective assassinations, kidnappings and extortion are on the rise and are now affecting communities that are hosting refugees. Reports of military personnel harassing Colombian refugees because of their lack of proper documentation are frequent as well.
Internally displaced Colombian women and girls continue to survive in the ongoing conflict. Nearly 50% of displaced households are headed by women, yet the humanitarian response still fails to address their specific needs. Armed groups use sexual violence and forced recruitment as military tactics. A 2007 study conducted by the Ombudsman Office in four Colombian cities found that 18% of displaced women identified sexual violence as a direct cause of displacement. Lack of dignified shelter, access to sustainable livelihoods and jobs, and recovery/compensation for lost lands are the major unmet needs of those displaced in Colombia.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has declared a state of emergency in response to massive floods in the country. Yet, as millions of dollars raised for flood relief, a humanitarian crisis still persists and the basic needs of thousands of people are still not being met. The severity of the emergency has overwhelmed the capacity of existing government aid agencies and non-government organizations. There is a lack of coordination among the confusing array of actors now involved in the response, as well as a lack of information on the specific needs of the people who have been affected by the floods.