The long lasting conflict in Colombia continued to cause significant levels of forced displacement in 2004. Official government figures show a continuing reduction in the numbers of IDPs, down from 219,431 in 2003 to 124,411 in the first 11 months of 2004, but reliable independent figures show an increasing trend, to 205,504 in only the first 9 months of the year (which at the same rate would give a figure of 270,000 for the whole year). This discrepancy can be accounted for by the time lag before complete government figures can be compiled, and to the fact that many IDPs are afraid to register and many displacements occurred in zones where government institutions are not present to register them. Since 1985 over 3 million Colombians have been displaced from their homes, the highest figure in the world outside Africa.
The army has been able to secure the major urban areas and major roads in most of the country, but the security situation in the rural areas, especially in the South, has deteriorated significantly, causing widespread displacement. The much heralded demobilisation of the paramilitary groups has begun to take place, but so far it has tended to create more insecurity and displacements. The conflict is having an increasing effect on surrounding countries, with a dramatic increase in the number of Colombians crossing over into Ecuador and Venezuela. Over 350,000 Colombians are now living in Ecuador, with over 30,000 seeking asylum there in 2004. Over 4,500 sought asylum in Venezuela last year, and there are now 130,000 Colombians living there. There is continuing concern over the phenomenon of besieged or blockaded communities as part of the armed groups' war strategy. Children are still being recruited by the armed groups, with over 14,000 involved, from age 12 upwards.
ECHO's strategy for 2005 builds on those of previous years, the principal objective being to provide the necessary protection, assistance and relief to people affected by the internal conflict in Colombia and to cope with the consequences of population movements inside and outside Colombian borders.
Assistance to IDPs will remain a primary focus, particularly during the first 12 months after displacement and especially in the rural areas, where state institutions are generally not present. There will be continuing support for ICRC's humanitarian programme in Colombia, both the emergency assistance immediately after displacement and the activities under the organisation's protection mandate. For the first time there will be a specific objective aimed at children and young people affected by displacement, violence and recruitment by the armed groups, reflecting the strategic horizontal priority of ECHO towards children.
In view of the regional dimension of the crisis, assistance to refugees in neighbouring countries is included in the 2005 Global Plan, with this being extended to Venezuela as well as Ecuador. Support will also be given to OCHA as it seeks to expand its role in Colombia and fulfil its mandate to improve coordination and information exchange between humanitarian organisations. Finally there is a component to allow for the maintenance of a technical assistance capability in Bogota.
It is estimated that, under the Global Plan at least 130,000 people will receive emergency assistance immediately after displacement and about 60,000 IDPs and other vulnerable people will see their living conditions improved. Also, around 70,000 refugees in Ecuador and Venezuela will benefit from ECHO's intervention.
The present Global Plan proposes humanitarian operations for a total amount of EUR 12 million. Each will have an average duration of 12 months within an 18 month period.