The presence and on-going proliferation of illegal armed groups and confrontations between them and with the armed forces in rural areas of Nariño, Córdoba and Huila departments continues to pose high levels of risk for civilians and remains as the main cause of forced displacement.
According to information issued by UNHCR, the Centre for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) and the National Observatory on Human Rights and International Human Rights from the Vice-presidency of Colombia, Nariño is currently one of the most affected departments by displacement in the country. During the last three months (August - October 2009), seven massive displacements were reported, directly affecting more than 7,000 people. Most affected municipalities are Mosquera, Magüí Payán, El Charco, Iscuandé, Santa Bárbara and Tumaco.
On 10 October 2009 in rural areas of the municipality of Olaya Herrera a group of approximately 940 Afro Colombian and indigenous persons (Eperara Siapidara indigenous group) were forced to flee due to reoccurring violent confrontations between the national army and illegal armed groups in the Pacific Coast of Nariño department. Displaced families are temporarily settled in the village of Las Marías and some have arrived to the urban centre of Olaya Herrera. Additionally, the aerial spraying of illicit crops - that affected subsistence crops - has triggered additional displacements due to high levels of food insecurity. Authorities have also informed that some 500 additional persons located on the banks of the Satinga River are in high risk of displacement. Local authorities, the departmental government of Nariño and Acción Social are providing humanitarian assistance with the support of WFP, PAHO/WHO and MSF. WFP in coordination with PAHO is providing technical assistance to the Departmental Institute of Health and the immediate health response team. WFP together with local health authorities visited the shelters and organized a nutritional survey of children. Results show high levels of chronic malnutrition among children (34%) compared to the national average (12% ) and highlights the concern that acute malnutrition will start to increase if privations of food and levels of food insecurity that these people have been suffering throughout the year are not responded to immediately, comprehensively and in an integrated manner. Further displacements along the Pacific Coast are likely to occur, due to the ongoing combats in the area.
As a response to these complex emergency situations, in September WFP mobilized an EFSA (Emergency Food Security Assessment) mission to the affected areas, composed of an interdisciplinary group and with a strong focus on nutrition and food security. Findings of the EFSA show that 5,700 persons will require food assistance starting November and that sanitary condition in shelters and houses are precarious. According to reports of the health sector, increased cases of diarrhea, respiratory and skin diseases have been reported. Most families are located in shelters where food is prepared in community kitchens or, to a lesser extent the internally displaced persons have sought temporarily (and often precarious) lodging in the homes of relatives, where they will be assisted through take-home rations. WFP is preparing an IR-EMOP to assist this unprecedented situation and will target food assistance to the most food insecure among the displaced populations, including through the improvised shelters where government or ICRC assistance is no longer being provided.
The local NGO CODHES reported that since 15 October, more than 500 persons (mainly children women and elderly people) fled from the village of San Ezequiel in the municipality of Colombia (Huila), due to the massacre of three members of one family (a three-year old girl among them). According to the source, local and departmental authorities are addressing the population's needs. Most families are temporarily settled in relatives´ homes, facing overcrowding, lack of food supplies and difficult sanitation conditions. The municipal government has provided emergency food aid for these families and Acción Social and the local health department is providing basic emergency assistance such as kitchen utensils, kits for personal hygiene and mattresses as well as basic health services. The WFP sub- office in Neiva is monitoring this situation closely with PAHO/WHO and IOM (a joint mission is underway) and is in close contact with Acción Social and the local authorities in order to complement their actions with the provision of emergency food assistance for these families if required.
It is important to highlight that the Ombudsman's Office had already launched a risk report/warning on the worsening of the situation in the department of Huila in April 2009 (through the SAT, or Early Warning System, established and operational throughout the country for this purpose).
In Córdoba department, some 120 families (nearly 600 people) were displaced from rural areas to urban areas of the municipalities of Puerto Libertador and Tierralta. On 14 October, nearly 200 people from Puerto Libertador arrived in the nearby municipality of Montelíbano. On 20 October, communities of rural Tierralta began to displace towards the urban area due to armed confrontations. Community leaders reported that these people were forced to leave their homes without shoes, clothing and food.
Nevado del Huila Volcano
The Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining (INGEOMINAS) has informed that the level of alert of the Nevado del Huila Volcano remains at Orange or Level II (probability of an eruption within days or weeks), after the snow-capped volcano registered a chain of superficial seismic activity with strong emanations of sulphur last Friday, October 16.
In Nariño, INGEOMINAS reports that the level of alert of the Galeras Volcano has decreased to yellow or Level III (decreased seismic activity of the volcano). The Colombian government continues to urge people located in nearby areas of the volcano to evacuate to safer areas. United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) together with the other UN agencies located in Pasto are closely monitoring the situation and remain in permanent contact with the relevant authorities to ensure immediate and proper response if required. All WFP staff are duly equipped with emergency evacuation supplies as per MOSS compliance regulations.
Simulation Exercise - October 2009
WFP actively participated as part of UNETE (United Nations Emergency Team) in a district-wide simulation of a massive seismic event in Bogota, D.C. on October 9-11.
DG ECHO Mission to Colombia
Peter Zangl, ECHO's General Director, visited Colombia from 13-17 October. The Ambassador of the European Commission Delegation to Colombia, Mr. Fernando Cardesa, joined the mission, which included field visits accompanied by WFP, UNHCR, and the German NGO Diakonie. The mission visited different humanitarian assistance activities for displaced persons in Colombia, including WFP food assistance projects in the municipalities of Soacha and Villavicencio. At the end of his visit Mr. Zangl concluded that the situation of the displaced population as a result of the internal conflict in the country requires heightened visibility both within and outside of Colombia. Mr. Zangl made reference to the genuine and effective team work that is evident among the ECHO partners in Colombia and the positive impact ECHO humanitarian assistance is having on the lives of the beneficiaries.