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Colombia: Social unrest hinders access to health care

23-07-2013 Operational Update

Between February and March, routes to various regions in Colombia were blocked during a series of social protests. This disrupted access to health-care services and also led to violations against medical workers, vehicles and facilities. The ICRC, in cooperation with the Colombian Red Cross, intervened to ensure the free movement of medical vehicles and called for health workers and facilities to be safeguarded.

At least three people died after the ambulances transporting them were prevented from passing, and there were shortages of supplies in various hospitals. Between January and March, the ICRC recorded 27 incidents in which health-care provision was obstructed, 15 more than the previous quarter.

Peace talks in Havana between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army (FARC-EP) and the government were ongoing in the first quarter of 2013. At the same time, however, the population continued to suffer the humanitarian consequences of violence and armed actions, both by the parties to the conflict and other armed groups. As in 2012, these incidents occurred mainly in the southwest of the country, particularly in the departments of Cauca, Chocó, Nariño and Putumayo.

"The duty to safeguard medical staff, vehicles and facilities doesn't just apply to the parties to the conflict; it also applies to the population as a whole," said Marie-Josée Sierro, the ICRC health coordinator in Colombia. "Hindering access to health-care services puts a lot of lives in danger."

Access to health care

  • 3,000 people accessed health-care services for the first time in four years thanks to the mobile clinic in Magüi Payán (Nariño).
  • 677 injured and sick people received medical attention thanks to ICRC support, and 188 of them received financial aid as well.
  • 273 civilians received first-aid training in conjunction with the Colombian Red Cross.
  • 46 medical staff received training on casualty management.
  • 562 people attended training sessions on the issue of safeguarding health workers and services.

In addition, the ICRC continued to provide safe passage for health-care professionals in areas that were otherwise inaccessible as a result of armed violence or roadblocks by protesters.

Infrastructure, water and sanitation

  • 2,300 people benefited from the refurbishment of a health post in Istmina (Chocó).
  • 60 pregnant minors now have somewhere to live until the end of their pregnancy thanks to the construction of a hostel in Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca).
  • The 673 inhabitants of Medio Baudó (Chocó) now have rainwater-harvesting systems and received training in hygiene and waste management.
  • The 160 pupils of a school in Suárez (Cauca) were given a school canteen and toilets, which have greatly improved hygiene standards.
  • 30 children from a school in La Montañita (Caquetá) now have access to water following the construction of a well and a solar-powered pumping system.

The work of the ICRC enhanced the living conditions of many people. The ICRC constructed or improved the infrastructure in many communities affected by the conflict and other forms of violence in the southwest of the country.

Displaced people

  • 2,216 people living in areas affected by the conflict and other armed violence benefited from ICRC farming initiatives, including a newly constructed rice mill, fish and chicken breeding, and growing cocoa, bananas, coconuts and cedars.
  • 1,099 displaced people received food, household essentials and hygiene kits.
  • Another 292 people in dire straits because of the conflict or other armed violence received food and hygiene kits.
  • The ICRC helped to record the details of 419 families in official databases so that they can receive State assistance.

In Colombia, the ICRC helps in cases involving more than 50 displaced people and in areas that State organizations cannot reach. In the first quarter of 2013, this was the case for the displacements in the municipalities of Bajo Baudó (Chocó) in the southwest and López de Micay (Cauca) on the Pacific coast.

Visiting detention facilities and rebuilding family ties

  • The families of 564 detainees were able to visit their loved ones thanks to financial support from the ICRC.
  • The ICRC visited 28 detention facilities and monitored the situation of 867 detainees.
  • 17 Red Cross messages were exchanged between detainees in State detention centres and their families, with the support of the Colombian Red Cross.

The ICRC continued to make regular visits to State detention facilities to assess and monitor the living conditions and treatment of inmates. In addition, the ICRC made recommendations to the State in favour of a new penal correction code. It is closely following the progress of this initiative, which is currently being debated in the Colombian Congress.

People held by armed groups

The ICRC acted as a neutral intermediary in the release of twelve people. They included three Colombians, two Peruvians and two Germans held by the National Liberation Army (ELN) in the departments of Bolívar and Norte de Santander, and three members of the security forces held by the FARC-EP in Cauca and Nariño.

Weapon contamination

  • 3,774 patients were treated in four rehabilitation centres supported by the ICRC.
  • 682 orthotic devices and prostheses were given to disabled people.
  • 878 people living in areas in which there are improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war received training on how to identify dangerous situations and reduce the risk of accidents.
  • 133 victims of weapon contamination received advice on how to access State services and obtain compensation.

Weapon contamination is found in urban and rural areas where there is conflict and other armed violence. It affects people’s everyday lives, hindering their access to schools, work, farmland and water. It can cause injury, disability, displacement and death.

The ICRC assists affected communities and strives to prevent weapon contamination claiming further victims.

Alleged violations of IHL and other fundamental rules

  • 170 people who had received death threats were given financial aid to enable them to relocate.
  • 12 minors who had participated in the conflict then left the armed group were reunited with their families.
  • The ICRC financed the funerals of 40 people who were killed as a result of the armed conflict or other violence.
  • The ICRC documented 63 alleged violations of international humanitarian law and other fundamental rules, committed by all parties to the conflict as well as other armed groups.  

The ICRC met with the different groups and reminded them of their duty to comply with international humanitarian law and customary law.


Photos

After being blocked for several hours because of a protest, a lorry carrying 110 oxygen tanks arrived in Popayán escorted by ICRC staff. 

Santander de Quilichao, Cauca.
After being blocked for several hours because of a protest, a lorry carrying 110 oxygen tanks arrived in Popayán escorted by ICRC staff.
© ICRC / M. Limoner

Habitantes de una comunidad rural asisten a uno de los 12 cursos de primeros auxilios dictados por el CICR entre enero y marzo de 2013 en el país. 

Arauquita, Arauca department.
The inhabitants of a rural community took part in one of the 12 first-aid courses organized by the ICRC in Colombia between January and March 2013.
© ICRC / D. Littlejohn-Carrillo

The ICRC installed an aqueduct to improve the living conditions of the 400 inhabitants of this rural community.   

Las Perlas, Putumayo department.
The ICRC installed an aqueduct to improve the living conditions of the 400 inhabitants of this rural community.
© ICRC / S. Giraldo

During his four-day visit to Colombia, ICRC President Peter Maurer visited various communities affected by the conflict and other violence in Putumayo. 

Río Piñuña Negro, Putumayo department.
During his four-day visit to Colombia, ICRC President Peter Maurer visited various communities affected by the conflict and other violence in Putumayo.
© ICRC / B. Heger / V-P-CO-E-02422

One hundred families living in neighbourhoods affected by urban violence took part in an ICRC income-generating programme. 

Medellín.
One hundred families living in neighbourhoods affected by urban violence took part in an ICRC income-generating programme.
© ICRC / L. Gómez