War on Drugs in Latin America
The “War on Drugs” is an international focus that began in 1961 when the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs recommended countries adopt punitive measures for drug charges. Prohibitionist efforts to eliminate illegal drug use intensified 10 years later when U.S. President Richard Nixon announced his war on illegal drugs, which he deemed “public enemy number one” on June 17, 1971.

After this, the U.S. took the lead in the war on drugs, leading international drug-control efforts such as halting the harvesting of the sacred Incan coca plant and criminalizing product consumption. These efforts mainly impacted Latin America, specifically Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, which are the main cocaine producers. Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean are the distributor countries that funnel drugs into Europe and the U.S. These Latin and Central American countries have experienced community and environmental damage, as well as an increase in violence and corruption because of the war on drugs. Even when levels of drug production in one country decrease, production moves to another country, a phenomenon called the “balloon effect.”

The war on drugs in Latin American countries weakened the economy, environment and overall safety and well-being of citizens. As new progressive leaders in Latin America gain power, Latin America begins the work of creating less punitive measures for drug offenses with the hope of ending the war on drugs.

The Need for Change

The “war on drugs” harms the national development of “narco-economies” and infringes on human rights, through forced labor and torture, the absence of fair trials and the right to a clean and healthy environment. Ending the war on drugs in Latin America is an important step because it frees up Latin American resources to focus on reparations for human rights violations.

Policies created during the war on drugs negatively impact marginalized communities. For example, women serve in prison for drug-related offenses at a higher rate than men, even though women with drug offenses are often non-violent and first-time offenders. These policies have also led to the use of harmful practices such as racial profiling. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention conducted a study released in 2021 on the “war on drugs,” which found that the war resulted in mass incarceration, disproportionate sentencing, abusive use of the death penalty and extensive human rights violations. The UN system Common Position on drug policy states that drug use and dependency are not to be treated as a criminal matter, but as a health issue that should be treated using public health education, mental health support and rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

New Leadership, New Policies

The main voice for ending the “war on drugs” in Latin America comes from the new Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a progressive leader of the state whose focus is peace in Latin America. Petro calls for a reversal of anti-narcotics efforts like ending the criminalization of coca growers and instead focusing on prosecuting the criminal organizations that profit off of drug trafficking.

Colombia, as well as Cuba, Norway, Venezuela and now Mexico, are all guarantor countries participating in the process of peace with the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN). The recruitment of countries to participate in ending the war on drugs in Latin America is a large focus for Petro, who joined a conference of leaders in Latin America at the National Palace in Mexico to announce reforming Latin American drug policy. After the conference, Petro announced on social media that “concrete agreements” were made in regard to development, sovereignty, migration and integration.

Looking Ahead

During Colombian President, Gustavo Petro’s appeal to the world to end the “hypocritical war on drugs” at the U.N. general assembly in 2022, he called out the world’s obsession with carbon, oil and money, which has led to deforestation and the destruction of Latin American stability and health. Petro announced a new time of peace in Latin America, because, in Petro’s own words, “without peace with the planet, there will be no peace among nations. Without social justice, there is no social peace.”

President Gustavo Petro represents a new age of progressive leaders whose focus is to repair the damage to the environment and citizens due to the war on drugs and the climate crisis. His efforts have gained the attention and support of the Puebla Group – made up of progressive Latin American leaders – and The Global Commission on Drug Policy, an organization of cultural and political leaders whose goal is to push reforms for international drug control by using responsible regulation.

With the support of these groups and leaders, economic, social and environmental justice will be at the forefront of future policy creation. Ending the war on drugs in Latin America is no easy task, as it involves creating a nurturing, supportive society for those addicted to and involved with drugs. However, it is a crucial step that must be taken to reverse the climate and humanitarian crisis created by the war on drugs.

Moving forward, the U.N. Human Rights Council requires drug policies to cohere with international human rights laws. Moreover, countries are to provide technical and financial assistance to drug policy to ensure that they protect fundamental freedoms and human rights. In addition, current drug policies are to be replaced with a restorative justice approach involving support rather than punishment for drug offenses. With these policy changes and the focus of dedicated world leaders like Colombian President Gustavo Petro, ending the war on drugs in Latin America is an achievable reality.

– Arden Schraff
Photo: Flickr

Recruitment of Colombian Children into Armed Gangs
Statistics on the recruitment of Colombian children into armed gangs show cause for concern. According to Reuters, armed gangs in Colombia forcibly recruited 313 Colombian children and adolescents between 2018 and 2020. Furthermore, armed gangs forcibly recruited more than 7,400 Colombians under the age of 18 between 1985 and 2020 and as many as 16,000 children lost their lives during Colombia’s conflict. Illegal armed gangs usually recruit children to increase their member numbers and help gangs in “competition for territorial control.” Examples of the largest illegal armed gangs are the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) — far-left guerrilla groups that fought in the Colombian conflict beginning in 1964.

Methods of Recruitment

Gangs often prey on impoverished children by “offering money, drugs, alcohol, clothes, motorcycles or weapons.” The lack of government presence and aid is another facet that makes children in certain communities in Colombia more vulnerable, leaving them “with few alternatives.” Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated poverty in Colombia, which rose from a figure of 35.7% in 2019 to 42.5% in 2020.

A report by Reuters established that in 2020 “between 18.9 million and 23.9 million Colombians lived on less than $91 a month” while “15 million missed one meal a day” and others stood on the brink of starvation. This augmented the ease by which gangs were able to recruit children as gangs could “boost their social contol” in impoverished communities, InSight Crime said.

School closures at the onset of the pandemic meant that many rural children who did not have access to internet and technological devices could not continue learning. “The free time and lack of supervision provided them with ample opportunities to carry out assignments for armed groups,” according to InSight Crime.

Amid the pandemic, higher poverty rates and dwindling alternatives to gang recruitment left children more susceptible to gangs than before. Reports suggest that gangs use these children “in different stages of the drug trafficking business” as well as for purposes of sexual exploitation by employing threats and violence and promising better living conditions.

Colombian courts do not express leniency for individuals recruited as children once these individuals reach 18. Courts treat child soldiers who reach adulthood as perpetrators instead of victims of the gang recruitment system.

Efforts to Address the Issue

In the past, programs to prevent the recruitment of Colombian children into Armed Gangs have suffered from underfunding and a lack of support.

The Barça Foundation, in partnership with Gran Tierra and the Bogota Chamber of Commerce, is collaborating to prevent “the recruitment of young people in border states of the country.” The Barça Foundation runs the program “Sport for peace,” which focuses on “generating opportunities for inclusion through sport for children and young people living in socially conflictive environments.” In Bogota, these collaborative partnerships have positively impacted more than 2,000 youths.

Children Change Colombia is an NGO that works with other local organizations, such as Fundación CRAN and Tiempo de Juego, to improve the safety of communities and “keep children off the streets” to reduce the risk of violence and recruitment into armed gangs. The CRAN organization annually “provides foster homes and psychosocial support to 50 children formerly associated with illegal armed groups.” CRAN also provides information to local organizations on how to safeguard about 300 children annually in rural areas as these areas are where the recruitment of Colombian children into armed gangs is most prevalent.

While the recruitment of Colombian children into armed gangs is a cause of concern, NGOs are hard at work to help prevent this. Providing children with more compelling alternatives to joining gangs and working to reduce overall poverty are the most important ways that the government of Colombia and aid organizations can help.

– Priya Maiti
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in Colombia
Colombia is a country located in Northwestern South America with a historically high poverty rate, exacerbated by the economic turmoil in the country during COVID-19. Inflation onset by the pandemic targeted Colombia’s primary industries, which included construction, mining and retail. These industries all fell by 27.7%, 15.7% and 15.1% respectively in 2020. Overall, the Colombian economy declined by a total of 6.8% in total as a result of the collective recession of major industries within the country. This resulted in Colombia’s GDP growth rate falling from 3.2% in 2019 to -7% in 2020.

With the apparent downturn in Colombia’s economy, issues such as unemployment and poverty became more prevalent in the country. This warranted concern as before the pandemic more than one-third of the population already lived below the poverty line in 2019 and Colombia ranked as one of the most unequal countries in the world in terms of income. Recent changes and discussions in Colombia’s government, however, promise a future of poverty reduction in Colombia.

The 2022 Colombian Presidential Election

Colombia swore Gustavo Petro into the presidency on August 7, 2022. Regarded as one of the closest elections in Colombia’s political history, Petro outwon his running mate Rodolfo Hernández by a 50.48% majority and made history by becoming Colombia’s first left-wing president. He looks to the goal of closing all inequity gaps within Colombia, including the wealth gap. Petro is actively working toward achieving his goal of economic reform in Colombia to counter the issue within the country.

Petro’s New Legislation

Projections have indicated that Petro’s proposed legislation will raise more than $11.5 billion annually to combat poverty in Colombia through two key actions. Firstly, the plan involves taxing the top 2% of Colombia’s highest earners. Petro stated that Colombian society should not view this action “as a punishment or a sacrifice,” but rather, “a solidarity payment that someone fortunate makes to a society that has enabled them to generate wealth,” The Guardian reported.

Secondly, Petro plans to implement an additional levy on energy and mining exports, sectors that significantly contribute to Colombia’s financial revenue. He aims to “add a 10% tax on some of Colombia’s biggest exports — oil, coal and gold — after prices rise above a certain threshold,” The Guardian reported.

Petro believes that these two major changes are the key to overall poverty reduction in Colombia. The proposal has received mixed reactions. Petro’s supporters are hopeful as they are happy to see his campaign promises come to fruition, meanwhile, others are skeptical, believing that Petro is too altruistic and is targeting the wealthy.

Looking Ahead

In 2019, Colombia’s wealthiest 20% “earned more than half of all income made” in that year, says Colombia Reports. The president’s proposal of taxing the wealthy will help to reduce inequality in Colombia and ensure a more fair distribution of wealth. This proposal will not only aid Colombians living in poverty but will also significantly aid with post-pandemic economic recovery.

– Aarika Sharma
Photo: Unsplash

Waste Pickers in Bogota
In 1950s Columbia, during the 10-year Civil War known as “La Violencia,” masses of people were fleeing violence in the countryside in favor of cities. Many of these rural refugees fled to the capital city of Bogota, sitting on a plateau in the center of Columbia.

With no other way of sustaining themselves, many migrants began to roam the rolling hills of trash in open-air landfills. These waste pickers in Bogota would collect bottles, cans and metal that they could sell to recycling warehouses. Scavenging the dumpsites with bulging bags of recyclables slung over their shoulders, these migrants worked long and hard hours to make a meager living, keeping themselves from absolute poverty.

The Waste Picker’s Struggle

For decades, these waste pickers in Bogota, known as “recicladores,” collected, sorted, packaged and recycled the city’s waste as informal workers. Aside from the job being extremely difficult, it was also dangerous, with risks of infection or sickness from the waste they collected.

Recicladores also faced discrimination and hindrance from policy structures. Waste collection and management became privatized in Bogota in the 80s, and people were beginning to see landfills as a health concern. As a result, the open-air dumpsites that had been their livelihoods closed in favor of new sanitation facilities. The city did not consider how these changes would affect the waste-picking population, as recicladores had to leave the homes they had built in the wastelands and descended further into poverty.

The discrimination they faced stood in opposition to the good they do for the city. Today, waste pickers in Bogota prevent 1,200 tons of waste from going to landfills per day. They organize the waste into recyclables, which also provide a valuable service to local businesses. Despite their value to the community, the average waste picker in Bogota makes only $3.41 per day.

The Fight for Rights and Recognition

However, waste pickers in Bogota refused to accept poverty as their reality. Bogota’s waste pickers are distinct in their predilection for strong, centralized worker organizations. In particular, the Asociación Cooperativa de Recicladores de Bogotá (ARB) represents roughly 1,800 waste pickers in the city and has been fighting for their rights for decades.

Since its inception, ARB and the communities it represents have experienced success on many levels. In 2011, Columbia’s Constitutional Court ruled that waste pickers had a special protection status by the state. Therefore, state authorities had an obligation to protect them as well as help them overcome the poverty and sicknesses that they are susceptible to. The Constitutional Court ruling also ensured that waste pickers have safe access to the recyclable waste material essential to their work.

However, their success didn’t end there. In 2016, the government passed a legal framework for fully formalizing the work of waste pickers. That same year, workers were able to secure additional compensation from the city in the form of payments between $50 and $170 per month – doubling or even tripling their normal wage.

Columbia is the only country in Latin America that has formally recognized the rights of its waste pickers. This was a direct result of the advocacy that waste pickers did for themselves, which led to the protection and improvement of their livelihoods.

– Grace Ramsey
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Colombia
Despite its economic growth, with Colombia being the fourth-largest economy in Latin America as of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated poverty in Colombia where the poverty rate in 2020 was 42.5%. However, with long-term trends toward declining poverty and better economic policies, there is hope for better living conditions in Colombia in the near future. Here is everything you need to know about poverty in Colombia as of 2022.

Quick Facts

  • In a population of 50.9 million, around 2.5 million people live on less than $1.90 as of 2019.
  • The poverty rate in 2021 was 39.3%, with a large gap between rural and urban poverty.
  • The Gini Index, a measure of inequality, is 51.3 as of 2019, according to the World Bank.
  • Annualized gross domestic product per capita growth is 1.02% from 2014 to 2019.

Factors Contributing to Poverty

When learning about poverty in Colombia, it is integral to note that it has a number of factors, including internal conflict, government policies, unequal distribution of land and more.

From the 1960s, Colombia engaged in a decades-long internal conflict between the government, paramilitary groups and antigovernment guerilla groups, which was funded primarily by the drug trade. Peacemaking efforts have been actively worked on since the 2000s and the Colombian government officially signed a peace deal with the main guerilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, in late 2016.

Many Colombians faced internal displacement due to the conflict when they had to abandon their homes and land due to threats to safety. Internally displaced people find it difficult to rebuild their assets and find stable housing or employment after they move, which often leads to living in poverty or extreme poverty. The World Bank estimates that Colombia still has around 5 million internally displaced people as of 2021.

During the conflict, paramilitary groups also seized large amounts of land from citizens, using it to fuel the drug trade. This had a disproportionate impact on the rural population — 18% of the total population as of 2021 — who still largely rely on agriculture, causing higher rates of poverty in the underdeveloped rural regions of Colombia.

Many accuse the Colombian government of pursuing a “pro-rich” model when it comes to the economy, according to Transnational Institute (TNI). Among these policies is an unregulated taxation system in which the wealthiest 20% contribute little in terms of tax revenue, despite receiving 55% of the country’s income in 2018. In addition, the government invested in international and private corporations as well as encouraging domestic export and international fair-trade agreements, leaving small-scale farmers vulnerable to price fluctuations and unable to compete with large agricultural operations.

Recent Trends

Despite these factors contributing to poverty, Colombia made significant improvements through other measures in the past two decades. According to the World Bank, Colombia worked on a debt management system, invested in the domestic market and improved policy coordination between various financial institutions in the country. The government also worked on better welfare programs, such as improving education outcomes as well as restoring land rights taken away during the conflict. The result of these efforts is steady economic growth and a long-term trend of declining inequality and poverty.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic initially disrupted this progress, Colombia’s economy recovered quickly due to its strong economic policy framework in place. Poverty decreased from 42.5% in 2020 to 39.3% in 2021 and extreme poverty is down from 15.1% to 12.2%.

New Challenges

Due to recent global economic trends and the Russia-Ukraine war, Colombia joins a host of Latin American countries grappling with rising inflation. The country experienced the highest rate of inflation in 21 years in April and food prices. The Russia-Ukraine war has disrupted the trade of wheat and fertilizer, which has contributed to food prices rising by 26%.

The United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean expects another spike in Colombia’s poverty rate, meaning that as many as 880,000 people could enter poverty in 2022 — the largest impact of any Latin American country — due to the economic effects of the Russia-Ukraine War.

Hope for the Future

On June 19, Colombia elected President Gustavo Petro, its first leftist leader, who promised to tackle inequality and poverty in the country. His plans include the improvement of social programs, such as increasing access to higher education, revamping the health care system and more. Petro’s focus on Colombia’s socioeconomic inequalities has the potential for a path toward poverty reduction.

– Ramona Mukherji
Photo: Flickr

Colombian Presidential Candidate’s Plan
Gustavo Petro was a candidate in the 2022 Colombian presidential election and a founder and leader of the Colombia Humana (Humane Colombia) party, ultimately winning the presidency. As a former mayor of Bogotá and longtime congressman, Petro advocates against corruption and inequality. Petro ran against 77-year-old Rodolfo Hernández, an independent affiliated with the League of Anti-Corruption Rulers, who has gained notoriety by campaigning through TikTok. Hernández had ambitious plans of tackling governmental corruption in his country. The two went head to head in the final round of the election on Sunday, June 19, which led to Colombia electing Petro as its president. Here is some information about Gustavo Petro as well as the Colombian president’s plan to alleviate poverty in Colombia.

Gustavo Petro’s Career

Gustavo Petro is from the Cordobá region of northern Colombia. In his youth, Petro became a member of M-19 (Movimiento 19 de Abril/April 19 Movement), a now inactive guerilla group known for stealing Simón Bolívar’s sword and kidnapping drug traffickers. In 1981, during his time in M-19, Petro held elected posts. Petro was the Ombudsman of Zipaquira in 1981 and the city’s councilor in 1984. Petro ended up in prison due to his involvement in the group just one year later, although he never met violence and advocated for peace in the organization. In 1991, he ceased participation with the group and became a member of Colombia’s House of Representatives. Petro lost his seat three years later and left the country before returning in 2002.

Petro ran for president of Colombia for the first time in 2010, placing fourth. The candidate achieved electoral success in 2012 when Bogotá elected him their mayor. The candidate succeeded further in the presidential bid in 2018, making it to the second round and surviving an assassination attempt.

Poverty in Colombia

Colombia has had a rocky relationship with poverty levels. The country’s poverty rate lowered by 3.2% from 2020 to 2021, after a 7% increase from 2019 to 2020. Food deficiency and poverty interconnect; Colombia’s poor often has trouble finding nourishment. A lack of peace and job security also allows for poverty to increase.

Poverty in Colombia is typically caused by poor infrastructure and authority while demands for better living conditions are often left unanswered. Additionally, the war in Ukraine has led to inflation and more poverty in the South American nation.

The Colombian President’s Plan

Gustavo Petro has many ambitious plans for his country’s potential future. The Colombian president’s plan to alleviate poverty involves expanding social programs and guaranteeing work and a basic income. Petro believes Colombia can prosper without reliance on oil and have a production-based economic structure. He believes that raising taxes on Colombia’s wealthy and printing money can fund anti-poverty programs. Petro likely received political support from citizens who were dissatisfied with former president Iván Duque’s policies, in addition to poverty and the wealth gap.

Regardless of whether Petro comes out of the 2022 Colombian election victorious or not, he and other individuals with his poverty-combatting ideals have the potential to lead Colombia to a brighter future.

Sophie Buibas
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Colombia
In 2019, World Bank data found that Colombia’s child poverty rate for ages 0-14 stood at 20%. After years of civil unrest, Colombian children are growing up in an era of displacement and poverty. These past conflicts have a way of infiltrating the lives of children as their guardians work to rebuild their own lives. Child poverty in Colombia is an issue that persists as countless families seek to gain stability.

Colombia’s History of Conflict

The prevalence of social injustice issues and the uprising of guerilla groups during the mid to late 20th century, threatened governmental authority in Colombia. Colombia’s 2016 Peace Accord put to rest 50 years of conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), providing Colombia with its first signs of hope in decades.

Colombian children now have the opportunity to grow up in a peaceful country for the first time in more than 50 years. The long-awaited end to the civil conflict brings hope but the legacy of conflict and violence has lasting consequences for Colombia’s people.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Colombia has one of the highest rates of internally displaced persons in the world —  a consequence of the decades of war. As of 2022, 8.5 million Colombians suffer internal displacement, which equates to a staggering 74% of the population.

The ripple effect of this displacement plays a large role in child poverty. As conflict and violence force families to flee their homes, many people lose their assets, land and houses and are unable to return to their former lines of work. This leads to a rise in poverty and unemployment, which, in turn, leads to children growing up in impoverished environments due to inadequate sources of income.

Effects of Child Poverty in Colombia

Malnutrition is a serious effect of child poverty in Colombia. According to a 2016 report citing UNICEF, “one in 10 Colombian children suffers from chronic malnutrition.” Further, the consequences of poverty disproportionately impact Indigenous Colombian children — the region of La Guajira accounts for only 7% of Colombia’s population, however, it accounts for more than 20% of malnutrition-related death among children younger than 5. Since the beginning of 2021, 17 Indigenous Wayuu children in La Guajira have died due to malnutrition.

Growth stunting is another consequence of malnutrition. In 2021, the Global Hunger Index showed a 12.7% prevalence of growth stunting among children younger than five in Colombia. As malnourishment increases, the depletion of mental and physiological strength necessary for work and school diminishes, leading to an exacerbation of poverty.

Violence Against Children

Sexual violence is another devastating outcome of child poverty in Colombia. Children who experience this sexual violence often come from low-income households. Poverty increases the risk of child labor, trafficking and sexual exploitation. The perpetrators are typically criminal gangs or even one of the child’s own family members. These victimized children tend to reside in slums or remote, outlying communities where victims rarely acquire justice.

According to a 2019 survey that the Health Ministry and Family Welfare Institute conducted, nearly 42% of Colombia’s youth endured “physical, sexual or psychological abuse as a child.” Unfortunately, Colombian NGOs have said that people report only 30% of these cases. In fact, the Colombian Public Prosecutor estimates that up to 200,000 Colombian children face sexual abuse annually.

Lack of education is another component that goes hand-in-hand with child poverty in Colombia. For these children, education is a doorway to a better life, but is, unfortunately, not as accessible as it should be. Despite the Colombian constitution’s mandate that children between 5 and 15 attend school, a 2019 article from Children Incorporated discloses that about 10% of Colombian children receive no education at all. This 10% equates to about 35,080 Colombian children out of primary school in 2019.

Children International in Colombia

Children International is an organization that acknowledges the severities of child poverty in Colombia. The organization has been working in Colombia for 33 years now, transforming the lives of Colombian children.

With malnutrition being a prominent result of child poverty in Colombia, Children International recognizes a need for check-ups and exams. Health care can be expensive, a fact that is especially true for Colombia’s lower class. To date, more than 74,000 sponsored children have received medical exams from Children International’s clinic.

Children International has implemented the HOPE Scholarship program, which provides funds that give children an avenue to complete tertiary studies after high school in order to obtain skilled jobs and break cycles of poverty. Through Children International’s Into Employment program, children learn skills for jobs in demand within their communities. About 71% of Into Employment program members found placement in jobs requiring the skills they gained during the program.

Child poverty is a persistent problem in the reverberations of Colombia’s civil conflict. Malnutrition, sexual violence and lack of education are a few of the direct effects that contribute to the vicious cycle of child poverty in Colombia. Thankfully, Children International has dedicated itself to improving these lives. With help from organizations such as this one, Colombian children may have the chance to escape the firm grip of poverty.

– Madeline Ehlert
Photo: PxHere

the 15-minute city addresses poverty
The 15-minute city is an urban mobility concept that allows for “people [to] meet all their needs in a 15-minute commute.” This city concept encourages neighborhood connectivity that centers around the needs of the people. The 15-minute city is a decentralized space that allows people to reconnect with their neighborhoods. Latin American cities, such as Bogota in Colombia, have begun integrating the 15-minute concept into their urban spaces with projects such as “the installation of bike racks in bus and subway terminals” and creating bike lanes to promote cycling over driving. Through active and sustainable mobility practices such as those in Bogota, the 15-minute city addresses poverty by encouraging cities to be more democratic by creating an accessible city for all.

Increasing Accessibility Alleviates Poverty

One of the first steps in poverty reduction is increasing accessibility to basic resources and services. Lack of accessible socioeconomic services negatively impacts the quality of life for marginalized communities. Limitations, such as inadequate access to health or educational benefits and opportunities, result in an unhealthy populace that lacks the skills, knowledge and mobility that education could provide. A strong urban policy requires a person-centered approach that especially focuses on the needs of marginalized communities. Proximity to resources is just one element of the 15-minute city concept. The 15-minute city addresses poverty by encouraging an urban space that is equitable, inclusive and offers an array of opportunities and resources to a diverse set of people expeditiously and within a short distance.

How the 15-Minute City Addresses Poverty in Bogota, Colombia

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020, Bogota introduced 52 miles of temporary bicycle lanes to encourage transportation options that support social distancing. The new bike lanes expanded the decades-old Ciclovía bicycle lane network that stands as one of the largest in the world. The 15-minute concept also encourages the use of public transportation. In Bogota, experts consider the bus system, Bus Rapid Transit, “one of the best in the world” and the Colombian government funds part of these bus ticket costs for impoverished people. The city also offers vehicle rides for people who live in neighborhoods that the Bus Rapid Transit system does not cover.

Benefits of the 15-Minute City

  • Increased Health and Nutrition: Access to healthy food options increases overall health and lowers disease rates. This is especially beneficial for communities that typically do not have easy access to nutritional foods. In 2020, an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that while hunger is a major issue, nutrition is as well because “in low-income countries, 87% of people cannot afford healthy diets.” The 15-minute city addresses poverty by providing a sustainable and viable solution to food insecurity. Increasing accessibility benefits the overall health of the community.
  • Better Quality of Life: The 15-minute city encourages neighborhood connectivity, which results in lower rates of isolation and loneliness while encouraging strong social cohesion and socialization. Green space is an important element of the 15-minute city because it offers social space and hosts vegetation that contributes to cleaner air and also serves as a preventative measure for heatwaves and floods.
  • Cleaner Air: Decreased vehicle traffic results in cleaner air for city-dwellers, which ultimately lowers respiratory illness and disease. Low-income urban areas, in general, have higher cases of respiratory illnesses and the concept of closing the road for pedestrian or bike traffic lowers these rates, bringing health benefits to urban regions.

A People-Centered Approach

Latin American cities have been implementing elements of the 15-minute city in their urban policies even before the COVID-19 pandemic. But, the pandemic saw a surge in the 15-minute city concept in response to social distancing restrictions and outbreak containment. The World Economic Forum has said that the desire for a more equitable and sustainable world could potentially materialize with the implementation of these strategies but limitations are apparent. The 15-minute city concept addresses poverty through a people-centered approach and many cities are starting to take note.

Jennifer Hendricks
Photo: Flickr

Smart Cities in Latin America
According to TWI, “a smart city uses information and communication technology (ICT) to improve operational efficiency, share information with the public and provide a better quality of government service and citizen welfare.” The primary purpose of a smart city is to improve the lives of its citizens by using innovative technology “to optimize city functions and promote economic growth.” According to the Inter-American Development Bank, “a Smart City is one that places people at the center of development,” highlighting the value of smart cities in addressing issues that impact a city’s most marginalized population. In particular, smart cities in Latin America have the potential to lift the region out of poverty.

Addressing Poverty with Information and Communication Technology

In Latin America, smart cities are gaining more traction as nations look for innovative ways to address poverty and improve the lives of their citizens. Across the region, developing nations are embracing information and communication technology to address environmental concerns, improve energy efficiency and provide people with essential resources such as running water.

Investment in smart city infrastructure allows for the opportunity “to build more reliable power grids or expand the Internet” to stimulate economic growth in low-income communities. In addition, technological advancements in public transportation have the potential to create an equitable and accessible city, providing people on the periphery the opportunity to access urban centers unlike ever before. More than half of the world’s population live in cities with a projected increase to 66% by 2050. As rural communities continue to seek economic opportunities in the urban landscape, it is more important than ever for cities to implement the people-centered model of smart cities.

4 Smart Cities in Latin America

  1. Santiago, Chile: According to IESE Business School, the Chilean city of Santiago “is the smartest city in Latin America,” with initiatives in “mobility, environmental control and citizen safety.” To prevent water wastage, the city has developed a sensor data collecting method in which parks and other public green spaces undergo irrigation based on the amount of moisture necessary. The city has also implemented an advanced electric transit system.
  2. La Paz, Bolivia: This Bolivian city overcame its geographic challenges by creating an extensive cable car system to serve the population living in the steep Andean hills rising 500 meters above the city center. The cable car system has now become the main mode of public transportation in the city, allowing residents on the outskirts access to the main areas of commerce and employment.
  3. Guadalajara, Mexico: Guadalajara is the first Mexican city to receive designation as a smart city. Through the city’s Digital Creative City (DCC) initiative, Guadalajara is revitalizing its city center by emphasizing historical and cultural preservation while relying on technology to improve the city’s infrastructure and accommodate its population growth. The city is also relying on various technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and a smart grid, to provide its citizens with clean water, efficient transportation and affordable electricity. The city relies on a participatory model to engage residents in the city planning process.
  4. Montería, Colombia: Montería is one of the first Colombian cities to establish a sustainable infrastructure plan aimed at tackling extreme weather patterns and emissions. It intends to reduce emissions by declaring city-wide car-free days and improving public mobility. The city is also home to an innovation lab, which focuses on developing digital technologies and training individuals to work with these technologies. Montería is also tackling public health issues through its e-health initiatives and is installing solar panels in its public schools.

Rising Smart Cities in Latin America Alleviate Poverty

Cities throughout Latin America are alleviating poverty by integrating smart technology into their frameworks. Urban areas that focus on creating smart and connected systems of living offer numerous benefits for their people, including improving the quality of life and ensuring the sustainable application of resources. With an urbanization rate of 80% in 2017, Latin America stands as the world’s most urbanized region, which means there is ample opportunity for smart city implementation.

Jennifer Hendricks
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in Colombia
Child involvement in armed conflict is a harsh reality, although the media often considers it a niche phenomenon with respect to many other international matters. According to estimates, the number of children soldiers around the world today amounts to more than 300,000, but this is only a statistical number. Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America are areas where there is the greatest use of minors in war contexts. The prevalence of child soldiers in Colombia is an issue that requires significant attention.

Child soldiers are often in areas that have very unstable governments and prevalent rebel organizations. Additionally, these areas often implement military investments aimed at maintaining stability at the expense of economic development plans, subsequently leading to other countries cutting them out of international trades. Meanwhile, these governments are frequently unable to deliver even the most essential services resulting in inadequate or absent health care systems, very high levels of unemployment and the lack of education systems. Colombia is no different with a prevalence of unrest and child soldiers.

The Beginning of Child Warfare in Colombia

The Republic of Colombia stands out in this context not only for having the world’s highest crime levels but also for the increasing rate of children involved in military actions. Guerrilla and paramilitary groups in addition to government armed forces, forcibly recruit children of every age, many as young as 8 years old. Statistics estimate there are up to 14,000 child soldiers now fighting in opposition groups in Colombia; although, it is a practice that has been going on for more than 60 years.

The preferred targets for recruitment are inevitably young people from the poorest neighborhoods of large cities or the more desperate rural areas as they do not have access to basic education and vocational training, and are therefore without many prospects. Furthermore, the recruitment takes place with false promises, but more often through coercion, under the threat of violence to these children and their families. Unfortunately, joining those corps does not represent an escape to the threats for those children that, with little to no training, must act as front liner shields, conduct executions, participate in suicide missions or make and transport explosives. In this context, the gender difference is a thin line and the differences in roles between males and females become smaller and smaller as the age of recruitment falls.

According to estimates, female child soldiers make up 40% of the total of child soldiers globally and it seems that militias reserve the hardest tasks for them. Not only do female child soldiers across the world carry out the tasks reserved for boys but many also end up as porters, spies, medical aides and even child brides and sex slaves.

Cause of Child Soldiers

To understand the causes of child soldiers in Colombia, it is necessary to frame the country’s political background. Colombia’s troubled political past dates to 1948 when the murder of liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán caused a war between liberals and conservatives. More than a decade of growing instability led to the establishment of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Those paramilitary groups later converged in the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) and continued the fights for 20 more years, wreaking havoc and death in the country and kidnapping political leaders. It is among these paramilitary groups that the practice of child exploitation for various purposes began. In conclusion, on June 23, 2016, FARC and the government signed a ceasefire showing commitment to building a better future for Colombia.

Five years later, however, political stability still seems far away, and with it, the tragedy of boys and girls used and abused. In November 2019, the Colombian government enforced a national action plan along with other accountability measures like Case No. 07 of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace aimed to prevent recruitment and sexual violence against children in the country. Despite these measures, according to the latest Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, paramilitary groups like FARC continue to forcibly recruit younger boys into their militias without punishment.

Combating the Problem

Luckily, especially in the last decades and thanks to the mobilization of the Colombian government, many nonprofit organizations directly support the cause against child soldiers in Colombia and multiple other poor countries. The way they are doing this is by not only granting populations access to essential services but also by building playgrounds and schools and promoting access to work. One organization that is helping children is Misiones Salesians, which began in Madrid in the 1970s and has reached 130 countries today. It provides international aid to promote the economic and social progress of various countries, thus contributing to eradicating the root causes at the base of child exploitation. Furthermore, Missioni Don Bosco Onlus, which began in Turin in 1991 and is a continuation of the pioneering work of the Italian humanitarian, has created 4,469 schools and professional training centers to help approximately 1,140,000 boys around the world.

To bring an end to children in warfare, the Colombian government must continue to define ever more stringent policies and accountability measures aimed to discourage the recruitment of child soldiers. In addition, on an international level, it is necessary for governments to collectively establish and impose sanctions against those who refuse to ratify the relevant international agreements and commit such crimes. In a time when governments around the world seem to be coming to terms with the reality of facts on several matters, it remains crucial not to forget the capital importance of foreign aid plans from developed countries in support of those causes that may not have a direct or immediate return on their economy or society, but that represents a considerable opportunity for collective progress.

– Francesco Gozzo
Photo: Flickr