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Colombia: winter spell heightens vulnerability of people affected by armed conflict

22-02-2011 Operational Update

During the last three months of 2010, Colombia experienced the longest and most devastating stretch of wintry conditions for 40 years. Incessant rain caused flooding and huge landslides which, according to official estimates, affected more than two million people, especially in the north of the country. In rural areas, where the armed conflict is fiercest, the floods worsened the plight of thousands of people who were already suffering from the consequences of minimal access to essential services such as health care, education, water and sanitation.

The widespread use of improvised explosive devices and the presence of explosive remnants of war in the areas where they live is a further source of concern to slum dwellers. This worry is exacerbated by the emergence in various regions of new armed groups who have been playing an increasing role in the armed conflict in recent months.    

The ICRC is carrying out a large part of its work in 25 rural areas where the fighting is most intense.

ICRC activities from August to December 2010

Alleged cases of violations of international humanitarian law

Between August and December 2010, the ICRC recorded 453 cases of breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) or human rights violations allegedly committed by the parties to the conflict. With a view to preventing such incidents in the future, the ICRC made 195 representations, 11 of which were in writing, to the parties to the conflict to remind them of their duty to respect IHL and human rights.   

During that period, the ICRC:

  • paid the funeral expenses of 138 families whose loved ones had died as a result of breaches of IHL  – this assistance reduced the economic vulnerability of families already stricken by the loss of a relative, and
  • supplied emergency aid to 497 people who had received death threats and also gave 160 victims financial support in order that they could move to a safer location within the country.

Support for families living in the conflict zone

More than 1,400 people received food and essential household items (cooking utensils, mats, blankets, etc.) to cover immediate contingencies during displacement, until they could embark on productive activities.

Five revenue-generating agricultural projects covering about 800 people were launched. The construction of productive infrastructure, such as sugar and rice mills, coffee-drying canopies and stables and the building of four community shops helped to buttress the economic security of 600 residents of conflict zones.  

Some 570 children attended school in more suitable conditions thanks to seven educational infrastructure projects, which included the building or refurbishing of schools, children's homes, canteens, hostels and school sanitation facilities.  

The implementation of four infrastructure projects for the supply of water and basic sanitation is providing 1,381 people with better access to hygienic living conditions.  
 
The renovation of four health posts is of benefit to 11,340 people living in the conflict zone. .

Preventive action to lower risks stemming from weapons contamination

The ICRC conducted:

  • a total of 64 activities to promote safe behaviour and a knowledge of victims' rights among more than 2,000 people living in communities in inaccessible areas affected by the armed conflict.  At the same time, the Colombian Red Cross ran 60 workshops for more than 2,300 people;
  • four first-aid training courses to enable communities living in areas contaminated with ordnance to respond in emergencies.   

Improved access to physical rehabilitation services  

The ICRC referred 448 new patients to the six support centres for physical rehabilitation or follow-up treatment, including physiotherapy.  

The ICRC provided destitute patients with economic assistance for transport, board and lodging throughout treatment, when the National Health Service did not cover these costs. The ICRC likewise donated 141 assistive devices (prostheses and ortheses) and more than 200 technical appliances (wheelchairs and walking frames) to people who had no means of buying them.

Improved access to health services

The four health teams, which were set up in rural areas affected by the armed conflict in order to facilitate access to preventive and curative health care, attended to approximately 5,000 patients and vaccinated 568 people.   

The ICRC also gave economic support to 98 victims of sexual violence and guidance as to where they could find medical and psychological assistance.

In September, the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross helped the Ministry for Social Protection and the Office of the Vice President to organize the second national seminar on the delivery of medical services in wartime. Its purpose was to identify ways of strengthening networks comprising personnel able to supply preventive treatment and health care and respond in the event of disasters, and to draw up local action plans for the protection of medical personnel.

In November, the first seminar on the medical and surgical treatment of persons wounded in an armed conflict was held in Bogotá for the armed forces. Its aim was to enable army surgeons and the ICRC to swap medical and surgical experience in order to optimize the treatment of patients wounded in the conflict. Dr Marco Baldan, an ICRC war surgeon, was among the 130 participants.

Assistance for persons internally displaced by the armed clashes

The ICRC:

  • handed out food, food vouchers and essential items to about 12,700 displaced persons in order to tide them over the first three months of displacement, or for six months in the case of mothers who were the head of their household, or of the elderly;  
  • improved the opportunities for fitting back into society for some 180 displaced persons through psychosocial support and income-generating projects run jointly by the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross, and
  • provided seven meeting houses belonging to indigenous councils in Cauca department with food and essential items.

Missing persons and their families

The ICRC assisted the authorities by recommending improvements to processes for tracing missing persons, for example the consulting of SIRDEC, an online information database used by all forensic institutions for the identification of bodies.  It also promoted the drafting of a paper on psychosocial counselling during tracing and forensic investigations to establish what has happened to missing persons.  The ICRC and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia jointly contributed to the monthly meeting of the inter-institutional working group on the psychosocial counselling of families of the missing.  

Detainees

The ICRC regularly visits places of detention managed by the National Prison System Institute (INPEC) in order to check on conditions and detainees' treatment. Between August and December 2010, 1,504 detainees were visited during 55 visits to 22 places of detention.

Promotion of international humanitarian law (IHL)

Between August and December 2010, the ICRC:  

  • conducted three "lessons learned" exercises and seven workshops where 560 participants were instructed in the application of IHL and in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of operations;
  • for the first time, organized two seminars on the legal use of force in order to meet the challenge faced by the security forces and to contend with the upsurge in urban violence.
  • conducted four "Journalists, armed conflict and IHL" courses
  • arranged a meeting with journalists from Semana, one of Colombia's leading magazines, in order to draw attention to the situation of victims of the armed conflict

Photos

The ICRC has built and opened a school canteen in the San Vereda district of the town of El Retorno in Guaviare department. 

The ICRC has built and opened a school canteen in the San Vereda district of the town of El Retorno in Guaviare department.
© ICRC / M. Mina

The ICRC visits this displaced family to assess its needs, before providing emergency humanitarian aid for three weeks. 

The ICRC visits this displaced family to assess its needs, before providing emergency humanitarian aid for three weeks.
© ICRC / M. C. Rivera

Marco Baldan, an ICRC war surgeon, participated in the first seminar on the medical and surgical treatment of persons wounded in armed conflict, organized for the armed forces in Bogotá. 

Marco Baldan, an ICRC war surgeon, participated in the first seminar on the medical and surgical treatment of persons wounded in armed conflict, organized for the armed forces in Bogotá.
© ICRC / Y. Castiblanco

Christophe Beney, head of the ICRC delegation in Colombia, at the opening of the second national seminar on the delivery of medical services in wartime, jointly organized in Bogotá by the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross. 

Christophe Beney, head of the ICRC delegation in Colombia, at the opening of the second national seminar on the delivery of medical services in wartime, jointly organized in Bogotá by the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross.
© ICRC / Y. Castiblanco

In an area of Putumayo, ICRC advisers visit someone who was injured by unexploded ordnance, but who has been fitted with an artificial limb, which he uses to drive children to school in his truck. 

In an area of Putumayo, ICRC advisers visit someone who was injured by unexploded ordnance, but who has been fitted with an artificial limb, which he uses to drive children to school in his truck.
© ICRC / Y. Castiblanco