UNICEF Humanitarian Action: Colombia Donor Update 18 Feb 2003

Situation Report
Originally published
  • Increase in forced internal displacement due to the internal armed conflict

  • Presence of landmines in 29 of the 32 Departments

  • Serious funding shortfalls for humanitarian interventions

Click here to see General Map of Colombia


Colombia has a population of 42 million, with 16 million children under 18 years of age. An estimated 55% of the population, 18 million people including 6.5 million children, lived in poverty in 2001. Experience has shown that the country is also vulnerable to natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions. The most affected by poverty and social exclusion are the 81 Indian tribes and the Afro-Colombian population (constituting 2% and 7% of the total population respectively), and is also the same population which has been forcefully displaced in the country as a consequence of the armed conflict.

President Alvaro Uribe Velez, the newly elected president, promised the strengthening of armed forces to fight guerrillas. At the same time, he urged a rebel cease-fire and called for international mediation, particularly by the UN, for peace negotiations. FARC, the country's largest and most powerful guerrilla organization, refused to lay down arms and negotiate. On 7 August, during the inauguration of President Uribe, FARC guerrillas launched a series of attacks against the Government and the overall humanitarian situation in Colombia has seriously deteriorated since then. The state of emergency and emergency rule declared for 180 days in August was further extended for another 180 days.

Substantial advances have been made in Colombia in the last decade in expanding the coverage of health and education services for Colombian children. The country has been able to achieve many of the goals stated at the 1990 World Summit in health and education, but substantial shortfalls exist, especially in the area of child protection.

In October 2000, the Committee on the Rights of the Child urged the Government to take effective measures to prevent and combat child abuse and mistreatment of children within the family, at school and in society at large, including the reinforcement of current multidisciplinary programmes and rehabilitation measures to benefit these children. The new Government has stated its commitment to develop an integrated policy for children and families and to harmonize legislation for children with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Beyond these challenges, many of which are common to most countries in the region, Colombian children and adolescents suffer from the tremendous, negative impact of the ongoing internal armed conflict. In almost all 27 departments, there is a widespread and violent dispute to control territory and resources, including illicit drug plantations and drug trafficking, which involves three major non-State armed entities. The increase of the armed conflict has sharpened peoples' fear and increased displacement. A product of this armed dispute is the forced displacement of civilians, mainly from rural to urban areas. This has affected more than 2.2 million people in the last 15 years, more than half of whom are children. In the last 30 months, displacement has been the most intensive in the country's entire history. Some 470,000 people were displaced during that period. According to official figures, between January and September 2002, over 330,000 people were forced into displacement, with 1,220 people being newly displaced on a daily basis. This shows a deep increase in internally displaced people compared to last year's daily average of 472.

The presence of anti-personal mines and other unexploded ordnance is known or suspected in 424 of the 1,119 municipalities of the country. More than 800 mine victims have been reported in the 1990s. An average of 200 people have been seriously wounded or killed every year in the last 3 years since 1998, 40% of whom are children. In March 2000, the Ottawa Treaty on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personal Landmines and on their Destruction came into force in Colombia.

While the National Army has complied with the law approved in 1998 that forbids forced and voluntary recruitment of people below 18 years of age, some 7,000 children remain enrolled in illegal armed groups in the country. An additional 7,000 children are estimated to be involved in urban militias (guerrillas and paramilitaries). From March 2001 to date, approximately 700 youth under 18 have officially left these groups. On 29 November, AUC, the main paramilitaries illegal group, announced their willingness to release all child combatants through UNICEF. For this purpose, exploratory negotiations between them and the Government are now taking place.


Landmine awareness

UNICEF began its landmine awareness activities in 1999 and these have been gradually expanded to date, reaching 18,000 persons in 90 communities in 30 municipalities with awareness-raising and local educational activities. This has been accomplished in conjunction with the office of the Vice-President and several NGO partners. An important factor in the risk of death and injury due to anti-personnel landmines is that conflict is ongoing in at least 29 of the existing 32 Provinces. In these areas irregular armed groups are continuing to lay new mines. In addition, the intensification of hostilities since 2001 has also resulted in a bigger amount of unexploded ordnance remaining in the field. It is important to highlight that due to the present situation of conflict, no humanitarian de-mining programmes are being developed, resulting in increasing risk to communities living in mine-prone areas. In response, UNICEF and partners have given the highest priority to an accident prevention strategy based on risk reduction education methodologies in those municipalities that are directly affected.

Child protection and child soldiers

Since the second half of 2000, UNICEF has helped to establish and is actively participating in an inter-institutional Committee devoted to child demobilization. This Committee includes governmental and non-governmental agencies and its function is to advocate and accelerate the process of child soldier demobilization. Increased UNICEF cooperation in 2003, with efforts at the central and local level to respond to the special protection needs of children, is based on the tremendous challenge posed by the combined effects of increased poverty, pressures on the public budget and the increased intensity of the conflict. Among the different interventions needed - beyond advocacy for the immediate release of children recruited in irregular armed groups - is preparedness in terms of sensitization, planning and organization of services to provide demobilized children with suitable opportunities for education and reintegration into society.

Psychosocial rehabilitation

Since 1996, UNICEF has implemented innovative humanitarian interventions in areas severely affected by the armed conflict where security concerns and tensions limit the action of local governments and civil society. The major focus has been on internally displaced families and on providing psychosocial rehabilitation to traumatized children and adolescents in partnership with the Catholic Church. Some 1,600 adolescents have been trained as play therapists and, under the guidance of psychologists, have supported the psychosocial rehabilitation of 90,000 children between 1996 and 2002. Support for emotional and psychosocial well-being is crucial in the first phases of the response to any humanitarian crisis. UNICEF has gained vast experience in this field in Colombia since 1996, especially as it applied to benefit children in displaced communities as well as in emergency operations after the 2000 earthquake. The strategy has included the formation of volunteers organized in mixed pairs and small groups, supporting the emotional wellbeing and rehabilitation of smaller children under the guidance of psychologists and pedagogues. In addition, support is being provided for the referral of cases needing professional and specialized care. In an initial appraisal, this programme has been evaluated as being effective in combination with the promotion of a wider awareness among adults of children's developmental and emotional needs.

Basic health and education

Continuing the intensified action undertaken since 2001, when work was expanded to basic health and education beyond psychosocial recovery, the programme has continued to target forcefully displaced communities in the revitalization of primary health care services and pre-primary and primary schools in the Provinces of Meta, Caquetá, Putumayo and Cordoba. Since the second half of 2002, humanitarian action has been expanded to the departments of Cauca, Nariño and Chocó, where conflict and displacement have grown dramatically in the last two years. The integrated assistance provided in 2002 has reached 22,000 children in communities in 22 municipalities seriously affected by the violence and destruction caused by the conflict. Overall, the Social Pastorate has remained the main partner. Meanwhile, the alliance with departmental governments in action carried out in Cauca and Nariño has been very significant and built upon the positive experience UNICEF has developed in Cupertino since the early 1990s in the promotion of child rights oriented good governance. Significant financial commitments have been made by departmental and municipal governments in the area of physical improvement of schools and health centres in the areas most affected by displacement, and in fully funding the recruitment of new teachers and health workers.

There is always fear that access to pre-school and school may be lost due to armed conflicts. Violence or threats may force teachers to leave schools or lead to the movement of an entire population of a village or urban neighbourhood, usually including about 30% of children between 5 and 18 years of age. These people generally find accommodation in the poorest sectors of urban communities where school services are often insufficient and congested. In these cases, there is a need for an intensive mobilization of local authorities and leaders, including older residents, to allow a prompt integration of children into local schools. As important as the rights of children and adolescents to regular schooling are appropriate child rearing practices, and opportunities for early childhood development. These may be negatively affected by the stress caused to adults by the violence that they have suffered, and can be manifested in the form of increased child abuse and negligence. UNICEF will build on the experience gained in Colombia since 1996 in psycho-affective rehabilitation and the integration of displaced children into school to promote child development and basic education in the emergency context. This includes widespread social mobilization, training exercises, supplies and physical reforms which ensure child-friendly schools and lead to improvements in quality education for all children. It also includes the work of volunteers, guided by psychologists and pedagogues, to support early childhood development and the prevention of abuse in families.

The application of primary health care programmes, including a component of nutritional education and food supplementation makes a positive difference to the wellbeing of children in forcefully displaced families. The starting point of this strategy is a comprehensive census of all members of targeted families, regardless of their need for medical care, undertaken by trained volunteers who are in most cases part of the target population themselves. Special attention is given to pregnant women and children under the age of five, as their status needs to be monitored. Universal preventive measures such as vaccination need to be applied with relevant basic education to reduce health risks. Access to public services, especially for the most vulnerable populations, is a crucial element in this approach. The appropriateness of food supplementation provided by UNICEF is always coordinated with other agencies, and considered in light of the availability of similar support from other sources such as the National Solidarity Network, the World Food Programme and the Red Cross.

Water and environmental sanitation

Two kinds of support are crucial in fulfilling the right to safe water and sanitation in the context of the humanitarian crisis in Colombia. Firstly, the prompt re-establishment, or the enhanced production and improved quality control of existing water systems which may be damaged or must satisfy an increased demand. Secondly, the establishment of special, simplified water and sanitation systems in areas where people are temporarily located. UNICEF Colombia has gained increased experience in this area of emergency assistance since 1999 and is prepared to contribute to the rehabilitation and improvement of water and sanitation systems as part of its regular programmes. A successful initiative of this nature promoted with the Ministry of Development has benefited municipalities with less than 12,000 inhabitants.

HIV/AIDS prevention

While the engagement of adolescents in social activities benefiting their own communities can greatly contribute to a positive attitude in terms of identity, self-esteem and defence of rights, UNICEF is aware that all adolescents need an array of suitable opportunities for empowerment, provided by families, communities and government. The education of adolescents for the prevention of HIV infection is an important element in their preparation for work after the age of 14 if they cannot move on to higher education. It is within this wider framework that AIDS prevention can be successful. Sex education components are treated together with other elements such as self-awareness, the building of a "personal life project", safe and ethically-responsible sexual behaviour and the principles of respect, solidarity and non-discrimination.

Communication and social mobilization

Well-planned communication strategies based on the active engagement of communicators and media networks at the national and local level can greatly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of complex humanitarian programmes. UNICEF contributes with technical advice, training and supply of materials to all of these strategies within the framework of a national mobilization effort to uphold children's rights, especially focussed on those who are victims of armed conflict.

Planning, monitoring, evaluation and general logistics

UNICEF support to planning activities will concentrate on assisting departmental and municipal councils in humanitarian action and displacement in preparing and revising their plans of action. The provision of shelter and other logistical supplies by UNICEF will be co-ordinated with other agencies and their appropriateness considered in light of the availability of similar support from other sources. The monitoring and evaluation component also includes the funding of UNICEF personnel exclusively devoted to humanitarian assistance.


To support its humanitarian interventions for the affected children and women in Colombia during 2003, UNICEF outlined a requirement of US$ 3 million. To date, very limited funds have been received to support the planned interventions. The table below outlines the appeal requirements, by sector:


Funds required (US$)
Health and nutrition
Water and environmental sanitation
HIV/AIDS prevention
Child development and basic education
Child protection
Psychosocial rehabilitation
Landmine accident prevention
Communication and social mobilization
Planning, monitoring, evaluation and general logistics

The table below shows the contributions received, by donor:


Income/Pledge (US$)
United States


The table below outlines the priority projects:


Beneficiaries / coverage*
Amount Required (US$)
Water and environmental sanitation Up to 20,000 children
HIV/AIDS prevention Up to 80,000 people aged between ten and 24 years, 300 teachers and community leaders and 40 health professionals
Child development and basic education Up to 20,000 children aged between 0 and 12 years
Child protection Up to 6,000 children involved as combatants in armed groups, 500 child victims of exploitation and abuse

* Population of under18 resident in the provinces of Meta, Caquetá, Putumayo, Córdoba, Cauca, Nariño, Chocó

Details of the Colombia Programme can be obtained from:

Manuel Manrique Olivier Degreef Dan Rohrmann
Area Office for Colombia
and Venezuela
Geneva New York
Tel: 635.70.66 Tel: + 41 22 909 55 46 Tel: + 1 212 326 70 09
Fax: 635.72.23 Fax: + 41 22 909 59 02 Fax: + 1 212 326 71 65
E-mail: E-mail: E-mail: