Brussels, 11 March 2003 - The European Commission has granted €8 million in humanitarian aid to help victims of conflict in Colombia. The funding is being channelled through the Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), which comes under the responsibility of Commissioner Poul Nielson. Most of this aid will go to providing food, bed sheets, cooking sets and hygiene products to around 200,000 people in the country who have been displaced by the conflict.
It is estimated that almost half of the internally displaced people (IDPs) are under the age of 18. A large proportion of IDPs are indigenous people or Afro-Colombians. In most cases, the IDPs are uprooted from a rural environment and forced to live in built-up areas where they have no access to land. The availability of food is thus greatly reduced. In addition, the quality of the available water is often extremely low and few IDPs have access to adequate sanitation. As a result, there is a high incidence of gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases, especially among children.
In 2003, ECHO will finance short-term assistance and protection to IDPs immediately following their displacement. This includes the distribution of food parcels, bed sheets, cooking sets and hygiene products. An estimated 200,000 people will benefit from this aid, which will be available in both rural and urban areas.
Financing is also earmarked for medium-term projects to promote the social integration of IDPs in the places of reception. Projects envisaged include the construction of small-scale water supply systems, sanitation improvements, health care, housing, psychosocial support and small-scale income generating activities.
ECHO's main objective is to provide essential assistance to people most affected by the conflict. It complements relief actions undertaken by the government and meets unmet needs in areas where the authorities and other humanitarian organisations are not present.
Colombia faces a deteriorating humanitarian situation. With almost three million people forced out of their homes since 1985 and more than 300,000 newly displaced in 2002, the country has the third largest uprooted population in the world. Prospects for an improvement in the situation during 2003 look bleak. The conflict has intensified following the breakdown of peace negotiations in February 2002 and the inauguration of a new government in August.