BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of Colombians continue to be driven from their homes every month to escape fighting between warring factions despite peace efforts to end a 50 year-war, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
The government needs to do more to provide humanitarian aid to communities living in areas hard hit by the conflict and drug-fuelled violence, deputy U.N. aid chief Kyung-wha Kang told reporters in Bogota at the end of a four-day official visit to Colombia.
“The ongoing displacement due to the ongoing armed conflict, which has lasted more than five decades, continues to displace, affect new people. I understand that even with the peace process there’s on average about 14,000 displacements taking place and hundreds killed or injured by landmines,” she said.
“The people I met told me they want peace so they can live their lives without fear. There are gaps in aid, especially in the areas that are difficult to access and where local capacity is limited,” Kang added in a statement.
Half a century of war - between government troops, drug-running rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and right-wing paramilitaries initially created to fight leftist rebels but later heavily involved in the cocaine trade - have uprooted 5. 7 million Colombians and left over 200,000 civilians dead.
The Colombian government and Marxist FARC rebels have been engaged in peace talks since November 2012, but neither side has declared a permanent ceasefire since negotiations began.
This means Colombians, in particular indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities living in jungle provinces and border regions where the armed conflict is concentrated, continue to suffer as a result of the war.
Regardless of any peace deal, high levels of drug-fuelled gang violence in Colombia’s cities will continue to be a key challenge and a cause of displacement in the country, the deputy U.N. aid chief said.
“It is also vital to recognise that the eventual signing of a peace accord will not mean the end of violence for all Colombians,” Kang said.
She singled out Buenaventura, Colombia’s main port city on its Pacific Coast, as a place struggling to cope with spiraling drug violence.
Buenaventura, home to 370,000 people, is a key smuggling point for cocaine being transported by sea and overland through Central America and Mexico en route to the United States, making it a hotspot for drug traffickers and criminal gangs and one of Colombia’s most violent cities.
“In Buenaventura alone, there were 7,000 to 10,000 people displaced in this midst of these criminal activities which can be very, very violent…there is an urban humanitarian crisis unfolding,” Kang told reporters.
The environmental damage and river pollution caused by toxic chemicals used to extract gold in illegal mining operations, as well as natural disasters, are other key challenges Colombia faces, she added.
“The floods of 2010 and 2011 was a huge challenge … but there’s also room for the two parts of the crisis response - support for the displaced and support for the natural disaster victims - coming together in a more coherent and systematic way,” Kang said.
(Editing by Maria Caspani)