Healthcare in ColombiaColombia’s healthcare system is not perfect but it also far from inadequate. Located in the northernmost part of South America, Colombia has estimable healthcare provision for the country’s people. With both public and private insurance plans, reputable facilities and well-equipped healthcare providers, Colombia sets an example of what sufficient healthcare looks like in a developing country. To understand this better, it is necessary to know some key facts about healthcare in Colombia.

7 Facts About Healthcare in Colombia

  1. Healthcare in Colombia ranked 22nd out of 191 healthcare systems in overall efficiency, according to the World Health Organization. For perspective, the United States, Australia, Canada and Germany ranked 37th, 32nd, 30th and 25th respectively.
  2. Colombia’s healthcare system covers more than 95% of its population.
  3. Indigenous people are considered a high-risk population due to insufficient access to healthcare in indigenous communities in Colombia. Specifically, they are more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to this lack of healthcare access and significant tourist activities in indigenous regions increase the risk of spread. Robinson López, Colombian leader and coordinator for Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA), said in March 2020 that tourism in indigenous territories in Latin America should stop immediately to curb the spread of COVID-19.
  4. There are inequities in the utilization of reproductive healthcare by ethnic women in Colombia, according to a study. Self-identified indigenous women and African-descendant women in the study had considerably less likelihood of having an adequate amount of prenatal and postpartum care.
  5. The Juanfe Foundation is a Colombian-based organization that promotes the physical, emotional and mental health of vulnerable and impoverished adolescent mothers and their children. So far, the organization has supported more than 250,000 people. The Juan Felipe Medical Center served 204,063 individuals — 20% of the population in Cartagena, Colombia. The organization also saved the lives of 4,449 infants through its Crib Sponsoring Program.
  6. In 2019, four of the top 10 hospitals in Latin America were in Colombia and 23 of the top 55, according to América Economía.
  7. Colombia secured nine million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson in December 2020. Combined with the doses it will receive from Pfizer, AstraZeneca Plc, COVAX and other finalizing deals, Colombia will be able to vaccinate 35 million people within its population of 49.65 million, striding toward herd immunity.

Recognizing Colombia’s Healthcare System

Simultaneously recognizing the current inequities and challenges alongside the positives in Colombia’s healthcare system is the true key to understanding it and the individuals depending on it overall. Despite attention-worthy deficits, healthcare in Colombia stands out in Latin America and in the world as high quality, widespread and respectable. The country’s healthcare is contributing to the well-being of many and the future ahead looks promising.

Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Coca Farmers Poverty traps Colombian coca farmers in an unsustainable, unethical and sometimes dangerous occupation. During the country’s half-century-long civil war, rural communities were built up around the cultivation of coca to be used in the production of cocaine.

The Peace Deal

Militant guerrilla groups such as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were reliable buyers of coca crops as they used the cocaine trade to finance the war with the Colombian government. However, in 2016, a peace deal was agreed upon between the Colombian government and FARC that officially put an end to the civil war in Colombia. The peace agreement included a plan to wean rural communities off of the cultivation of coca by asking them to uproot their own coca plants and then providing them a monthly stipend as well as technical assistance in order to assist them in transitioning from coca to other crops. Due to organizational and financial oversights, however, many coca farmers have not received their full stipends nor have they received the technical assistance to change crops. Despite this, the Colombian government continues to carry out forced coca crop eradication efforts that leave these communities with no viable source of income.

Impoverished Farmers in Colombia

Even though the Colombian civil war is officially over, armed groups still vie for control of the cocaine trade, often employing violent, coercive methods to secure a steady supply of coca from impoverished farmers, putting coca farmers’ families and communities at risk due to the production of coca.

Often struggling to make ends meet, farmers rely on the steady income that coca cultivation provides them, despite their concerns about ethics and danger. With the implementation of the government’s coca replacement program falling flat, coca farmers were given little choice but to continue to cultivate coca crops or watch their families go hungry. Colombian law enforcement officials say 40% of forcefully eradicated coca crops are replanted. Voluntary replacement of coca crops with other crops is much more promising, with replanting rates near zero.

The Voluntary Replacement of Coca Crops

The voluntary replacement of coca crops with cacao allows farmers to provide themselves with a reliable income without having to endanger themselves or contribute to the narcotics industry. The National Federation of Cacao Farmers (Fedecacao) has been helping farmers to make this transition. With yields of up to 800kg per hectare, a cacao farmer can earn up to double the minimum wage of Colombia, making coca cultivation a less attractive alternative due to its illegality and the violence that the coca industry brings about. On top of this, the cacao industry in Colombia is growing with 177,000 hectares devoted to cacao­­, 25,000 of which were transitioned from coca cultivation. The increased production of cacao has resulted in Colombia becoming a cacao exporting country.

Joel Palacios Advocates for Cacao Transition

One particular example of a successful transition from coca cultivation to cacao is taking place in the department of Chocó in western Colombia where 60% of people live below the poverty line. Joel Palacios, a native of Chocó, has been devoted to advocating for the replacement of coca by cacao since 2011. For years, Palacios ran a chocolate training center for coca farmers who desire to grow cacao and turn it into chocolate. Palacios then launched Late Chocó, his own artisanal chocolate company based in Bogotá.

Helping Farmers Transition to Cacao

Stories like that of Palacios show the benefits of working with coca farmers to replace dangerous and illegal crops with more legal, profit-earning alternatives such as cacao. Whereas forcible, nonconsensual uprooting of coca produces inefficient results, the prospect of a steady, legal source of income incentivizes coca farmers to make the transition to cacao on their own.

Willy Carlsen
Photo: Flickr

Helping Venezuelan Refugees
Colombia is helping Venezuelan refugees following instability in Venezuela. Colombia has received over one million Venezuelan refugees and the Colombia-Venezuela border has been relatively porous. These Venezuelans are escaping hunger, hyperinflation and generally poor living standards while Colombia faces many problems of its own.

Background

Colombia and its people, although needing humanitarian aid for their own country, have continued to allow Venezuelans to come in. Colombia far surpasses other countries as the number one receiver of Venezuelan refugees. The government provides them services in refugee camps such as orthodontic treatment, legal assistance, psychological guidance, haircuts, manicures and food. This has been described by various Venezeulen refugees to be beneficial. However, there are concerns that Colombia might not sufficiently meet the demands for this new mass influx of people considering its existing problems with its own people.

Colombia today sees high rates of terrorism and crime, from dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and groups like The National Liberation Army (ELN). Armed robberies are also common there, and Colombia’s social systems and law enforcement have failed to address this issue. This results in events like a car bomb incident in January 2019 in Bogota which killed 22 people and injured 66 more, a bomb in January 2018 when a bomb exploded in front of a police station in Barranquilla, a bomb in June 2017 when three people were killed in a shopping mall and an incident in 2018 where two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver were killed along the Colombia-Ecuador border. The U.S. State Department rates Colombia with a Level 3: Reconsider Travel rating, citing these issues as well as health concerns from COVID-19.

Current Sources of to Help

Despite this news, there are things people can do to aid in helping Venezuelan refugees. The USAID program in the country is one example of helping Venezuelan refugees and aiding Colombia’s effort for this task. USAID has provided ventilators as well as $30 million of aid to Colombia amid the COVID-19 pandemic and humanitarian aid after Hurricane Iota struck the region in November 2020. But most of all, it is the Colombian people who are helping Venezuelan refugees.

At border towns, people have taken Venezuelan refugees into their homes, often indefinitely at no cost at all. In the 1980s and 1990s, Colombia was experiencing a decade-long conflict with FARC. This destructive conflict displaced more than seven million people, and groups of Colombians migrated to the then prosperous Venezuela. The Venezuelans during this conflict took Colombians in the same way as Colombians are taking in Venezuelans now. The Colombian border state of La Guajira is the perfect example of this, as over 160,000 Venezuelan refugees have taken refuge in La Guajira. Venezuelans now make up one-fifth of the population. The selfless help from local Colombians has made a difference in helping Venezuelan refugees.

Aid outside the Colombian government does a lot in helping Venezuelan refugees. This is true whether it goes directly to the local people or arrives through sources like USAID. The intertwining between Venezuelans and Colombians, promoted by Venezuelan refugee events hosted by Colombians before COVID-19, can also help alleviate anti-Venezuelan sentiment and provide the region more stability.

Justin Chan
Photo: Flickr

Colombia's National Development PlanWhile Colombia has magnificent landscapes and rich cultural history, the country is also rooted in deep political and economic inequality. In 2018, Colombia’s poverty rate stood at 27.8%; this measure defines poverty as those living on less than $5.50 a day. Unfortunately, Colombian households led by women are more likely to be impoverished. Thus, Colombia finds itself in need of reform. Hopefully, poverty will decrease with the implementation of Colombia’s National Development plan.

A Look Into Colombia’s Recent History

Colombia’s poverty rates and development plan cannot be explained without the inclusion of the country’s last five decades of civil unrest. Colombia’s civil war involves the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARQ), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Colombian government. The conflict largely revolves around the call for economic reform. The FARQ and the ELN were founded in the 1960s to “oppose the privatization of natural resources and claim to represent the rural poor against Colombia’s wealthy.”

Although the FARQ and the ELN cite good intentions, Colombia’s civil war “has left as many as 220,000 dead, 25,000 disappeared, and 5.7 million displaced over the last half-century.” The U.S. State Department calls these groups terrorist organizations. Unfortunately, the consequences of this civil war, like all other civil wars, had devastating effects on the countries’ social and political spheres. In 2016, the Colombian Government and the leaders of the FARQ signed a peace agreement, hoping to bring unity to the country.

The National Development Plan

However, three years later, the promises of reinsertion, protection programs and rural remain unfulfilled, and the violence continues. Thankfully, this could change with Colombia’s National Development Plan (PND). This proposal “combines the government’s financial resources with grassroots participation which the government calls ‘co-creating together,’ a form of engagement that will play a key role in building sustainable peace.”

Launched by President Ivan Duque in 2018, Colombia’s National Development Plan has a budget of $325 billion. The plan hopes to address societal, social, economic and political issues within the country. But, its most ambitious goals rest on “education, employment, entrepreneurship and environmental sustainability.”

Eradicating Poverty

One major goal of the PND is to bridge the gap between the economic classes, eradicating extreme poverty. Today, 1.9 million Colombians are in extreme poverty; the government hopes to implement the Sisben IV program, which “will see State resources delivered to the most vulnerable members of society through subsidies.”

The PND aims to alleviate poverty by stimulating the economy in a multitude of ways; state subsidies are just one example. For instance, Colombia plans to develop creative industries, “such as visual arts, software development and cultural industries.” The national administration also plans to reduce unemployment by more than 1% through the creation of 1.6 million jobs. Additionally, “The plan is also targeting the development of international trade and the promotion of foreign investment in Colombia as a means of increasing the capacity of the economy.”

Education and the Environment

Increasing employment and subsidies will certainly help the economy directly. But, the PND also hopes to improve the economy in the long-run by developing education systems and improving the environment. For example, the PND hopes to increase participation in the public education system. Administrators aim to double “the number of students who are attending a single session school day from 900,000 to 1.8 million.” In terms of the environment, President Duque’s plan aims to invest $3 billion in sustainable development and to plant “180 million trees in order to stimulate a rejuvenation of the environment.”

For five decades Colombia has dealt with internal strife, leaving the country torn in the political, social and economic arenas. Colombia’s most vulnerable population, the poor, has seen little improvement in recent years. Colombia’s civil unrest and high poverty rates left little hope for the future. However, the 2018 National Development plan sparks the potential for change. The plan proposes both direct and long-term solutions for poverty through investments in education, employment, the environment and the economy. Hopefully, Colombia’s National Development plan will benefit its impoverished communities.

Ana Paola Asturias
Photo: Flickr

Venezuelan MigrantsThe poor living conditions that have escalated in Venezuela since 2013 have led to a surge of Venezuelan migration into neighboring Colombia. Because the COVID-19 pandemic is an especially dangerous and difficult time for these Venezuelan migrants and refugees, humanitarian organizations are working to support their needs.

The Current Situation for Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia

Since 2014, the number of Venezuelans pursuing refugee status increased by 8,000% due to the political and economic instability in Venezuela, coupled with a severe shortage of food and medical supplies. There are currently 1.8 million refugees and migrants in Colombia.

Colombia has put containment rules in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, which have limited opportunities for Venezuelan migrants to find employment and access food. Because the majority of Venezuelan migrants do not have stable employment contracts, their reliance on daily jobs, which are now more difficult to find, has left many families without the proper income to afford basic necessities. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, Bucaramanga, a city in north-central Colombia, already had malnutrition rates of 20% in children and 5% in adults. The following humanitarian organizations have helped provide for the unmet needs of this population.

The Start Fund

In April 2020, the Start Network, a nonprofit committed to localizing funding and innovation for humanitarian action, developed the Start Fund COVID-19. The initiative has been able to tackle challenges from the pandemic that is “neglected or underfunded.” It is with the Start Fund COVID-19’s financial support that prominent humanitarian organizations are currently able to provide relief for Venezuelan migrants.

Fundación entre Dos Tierras

Fundación Entre Dos Tierras is a Colombian humanitarian organization that emerged to support especially vulnerable Venezuelan migrants in Bucaramanga. Before the pandemic worsened conditions for this community, volunteers already hosted the Programa Tapara, which provided food, clothing and medicine, along with three other programs. Fundación Entre Dos Tierras has become a local partner to two international humanitarian organizations to combat food insecurity for Venezuelan migrants attempting to return to the Venezuelan border.

Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International

As a result of the current health crisis, many Venezuelans have had to live in hotels or congregate in parks. Venezuelans in Colombia who are homeless or have experienced eviction are the target population of Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International’s work. Each day in Bucaramanga, 750 people receive two meals and 800 people obtain hygiene kits.

Because of the complications for employment that Colombia’s containment rules have caused, some Venezuelans are attempting to return to Venezuela. Of these returnees, 1,600 migrants are to receive hygiene products and enough food to last 48 hours.

Solidarités International

Solidarités International has also constructed rehabilitation programs for Venezuelans along their migration journeys. There are four shelters present on one of the main routes that go through Bucaramanga to Medellín and Bogotá. The humanitarian organization, in partnership with Première Urgence Internationale, has increased the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene and WASH services. As a vulnerable community during COVID-19, sheltering in these spaces creates a safer refuge along their journeys.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only aggravated food and housing insecurity for Venezuelan migrants and refugees residing in Colombia. The collaboration between Fundación Entre Dos Tierras, Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International has created temporary aid for thousands of Venezuelans. It is imperative that this vulnerable population continues to receive support throughout the pandemic.

– Ilana Issula
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Slum Reform in ColombiaIn Colombia, guerrilla wars that started in 1964 displaced thousands of people. The result was that many settled into slums. One of these slums, Comuna 13, lies in the city of Medellín, Colombia. During the next 40 years, the population in Medellín grew from 350,000 to 3 million, vastly decreasing the available living space. Poverty emerged in the cramped quarters of the Comuna 13 slum. Unfortunately, the cycle only continued due to a lack of transportation, public services and education. Poverty paved the way for drug cartels to emerge, but Medellín had committed to change. Below are three ways in which Medellín has reformed its slums, becoming an example of slum reform in Colombia and Latin America:

3 Ways Medellín Reformed Its Slums

  1. Transportation. Medellín created transportation in the slums to make life easier. Comuna 13 sits on the side of a hill and therefore, previously, many residents had to climb the equivalent of 28 stories to reach their homes. As a solution, Medellín invested $7 million in an escalator which provides a five-minute ride. This makes transportation to the main city much easier. In 2004, the installation of cable cars reduced a two-hour commute from the slums to the city, to a 45-minute commute. Today, 20,000 people use the cable cars (which end next to the subway station) per day.
  2. Promoting Education and Discouraging Drug Activity. Medellín installed community resources as part of its slum reform to promote education and discourage drug cartels. With education, people can get higher-paying jobs and break the cycle of poverty. But when people live in poverty, drug cartels try to recruit them with the promise of money and security. To address this, Medellín constructed art galleries, libraries (with free computer use), auditoriums and community centers, in 2007. These are easily accessible thanks to the installation of cable cars. Education, a key factor of slum reform in Colombia, can break the cycle of poverty by helping those in the slums obtain higher-paying jobs.
  3. Hiring. Medellín also hired residents for projects to create slum reform. One key example was the installation of paved paths, vegetable gardens and drainage canals. These projects beautified Comuna 13 and also gave back to the community in other ways. For instance, 2,500 previously unemployed people worked on the projects, earned money and created a better space to live in.

A Model for Success

Medellín is an example of successful slum reform in Colombia. The property prices of homes in the slums have risen and tourism has surged as a result of the new transportation and beautification measures. Also, as the former murder capital of the world, Medellín’s key goal was to reduce homicide. By 2012, in just eight short years, the murder rate reduced 50% to 0.05%. For comparison, this figure is less than New Orleans’s at 0.075% murder rate. Medellín is an example for many other communities around the world. In Latin America, for example, more than 80% of the population lives in cities and as the population grows, space per person reduces. This translates into growing slums. With the help of innovative ideas such as those from Medellín — communities can reform their slums and help improve the lives of those living in poverty.

Seona Maskara
Photo: Wikimedia

Solar Technology Alleviating PovertyGivePower, founded in 2013 by Hayes Barnard, is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to use solar technology in alleviating poverty worldwide. The United Nations reports that, as of 2019, “over two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and about four billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.” These water-related stress levels are expected to rise with increased population growth and global economic development. Ultimately, yielding a rise in poverty.

Solar Technology: A Solution to Poverty

Solar technology presents a solution to this growing, global, water crisis. This is because solar technology holds the power to supply clean water and efficient energy systems to communities located in virtually any part of the world. Since 2013, GivePower has worked to help some of the world’s poorest countries gain access to a source of clean, renewable and resilient energy. This has in turn allowed for more readily available, clean drinking water, agricultural production and self-sustaining communities. For example, in 2018 alone, GivePower granted access to clean water, electricity and food to more than 30,000 people in five countries. Since its founding, GivePower has completed projects in the following six countries:

  1. Nicaragua: Though education through the primary stages is mandatory for Nicaraguans, school enrollment numbers are low. During its first-ever, solar microgrid installation in 2014, GivePower, recognized the importance of education. In this vein, GivePower shifted its resources toward powering a school in El Islote, Nicaragua. The school’s enrollment has improved tremendously, now offering classes and resources for both children and adults.
  2. Nepal: In Nepal, access to electricity has increased by nearly 10% for the entire Nepalese population, since GivePower began installing solar microgrids in 2015. Installation occurred throughout various parts of the country. Rural villages now have access to electricity — allowing schools, businesses, healthcare services, agricultural production and other forms of technology to prosper. Part of GivePower’s work in Nepal includes installing a 6kW microgrid on a medical clinic in a rural community, ensuring essential services.
  3. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): During 2016, the GivePower team reached the DRC, where civil war has ended in a struggle for both people and the country’s wildlife. The DRC is home to many of the world’s endangered species, making protection of the country’s wildlife essential. GivePower has successfully installed solar panels for ranger stations in one of Africa’s oldest national parks. In this way, wildlife thrives. This power provides a means for rangers to meet their basic needs and increases the likelihood that rangers can protect wildlife.
  4. Puerto Rico: In 2017, Hurricane Maria, a powerful category four hurricane, devastated Puerto Rico. The disaster left many without shelter, food, power or clean water for months. GivePower intervened, installing solar microgrids and reaching more than 23,000 people. The organization provided individual water purification systems to families without access to clean drinking water and installed solar microgrids. In this effort, the main goals were to restore and encourage more disaster relief, emergency and medical services. Furthermore, the refrigeration of food and medication and the continuation of educational services were paramount in these efforts.
  5. Kenya: Typically, only about 41% of Kenyans have access to clean water for fulfilling basic human needs. Notably, about 9.4 million Kenyans drink directly from contaminated surface water. During 2018, using solar technology in alleviating poverty, GivePower provided electricity to Kenyans living in Kiunga. Moreover, GivePower also increased access to clean water through a large-scale, microgrid water desalination farm. The water farm provides clean water for about 35,000 Kenyans, daily. The organization has also reached the Namunyak Wildlife Conservatory located in Samburu, Kenya. There, GivePower installed solar panels to ensure refrigeration and communications at the conservatory.
  6. Colombia: In 2019, GivePower installed solar microgrids in Colombia to preserve one of the country’s most famous cultural heritage sites. Moreover, the microgrids helped to support research conducted in the area. The grids installed have been able to sustain a 100-acre research field and cold storage units.

Solar Technology Alleviating Poverty: Today and Tomorrow

Renewable, clean and resilient energy has granted many populations the ability to innovate. In this way, other basic, yet vital human needs are met. Using solar technology alone in alleviating poverty has been enough to create water farms that provide clean water to thousands. With water and energy for innovation — agricultural production flourishes. This, in turn, addresses hunger issues while also working toward economic development. Having already touched the lives of more than 400,000 people, GivePower and solar technology present a promising solution in alleviating global poverty.

Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Colombia
Colombia is a South American country between the Caribbean Sea and the Andes Mountains that people know for its salsa dancing and its coffee. The country has come a long way in the past century in its advancement of women’s rights in Colombia.

Throughout the colonial era and the 19th century, Colombia operated under a patriarchal society, and many relegated women to being housewives. Few besides the wealthy had access to education, and it had limitations for those who did. However, by the 1930s, higher education schooling received legalization for women, and society began to recognize women as equal to men for their academic achievements. Around this time, Colombia offered full citizenship status to women as well.

In the present day, Colombia demonstrates greater gender equality due to the several measures that it previously took to support and protect women. Here are four facts about women’s rights in Colombia.

4 Facts About Women’s Rights in Colombia

  1. Colombia’s government has strong laws in favor of women’s rights and gender equity. For example, in 1991, the Political Constitution of Colombia replaced the 1986 Constitution and included several articles supporting women’s equality. Some articles expanded on women’s rights to participate in society, including freedom from discrimination and the right to participate in politics and public administration. Others improved gender equality in family life, establishing the possibility of divorce and special protection during pregnancy. Furthermore, in 2011, Colombia’s government passed Law 1475, which establishes a 30% quota of women candidates in all elections; the same percentage of women must also occupy the highest level of the government’s public service. The passing of this law has increased women’s participation in politics and government, therefore strengthening their influence over future legislation. In 2018, half of Colombia’s cabinet ministers were women, and for the first time in history, the country had a female minister of the interior. By comparison, the average for female representation in Latin American legislatures was 22% in 2010.
  2. The Colombian government actively combats violence and discrimination towards women. Domestic violence is a prevalent issue in Colombia, with nearly 38,000 reported cases of violence against women at the hands of an intimate partner in 2014. Therefore, legislation that supports women in vulnerable positions is even more crucial. Law 1257, passed in 2008, is one example, as it issued regulations to prevent and punish forms of violence and discrimination against women. Additionally, Law 1719, passed in 2014, ensures access to justice for victims of sexual violence. These recently-passed regulations protect women from abuse and provide them with greater autonomy in leaving harmful domestic relationships.
  3. Young women have access to schooling and education. In 2018, 83% of Colombian children aged 11 to 12 attended secondary school, with girls outnumbering boys by 5% – 80% attendance for girls versus 75% for boys. Young women are overall more educated than men in Colombia, providing them with more opportunities to enter high-earning careers. The technology sector is one industry that is expanding in its employment of women. Colombia is experiencing a boom in IT investment, and as a result, the country’s 1,800 software development companies are creating hundreds of thousands of new development and programming jobs. The Bogotá Chamber of Commerce has launched a World Bank pilot for women in IT, creating a scholarship program to train women in programming and web development at the Bogotá Institute of Technology. At present, women occupy 17% of IT jobs in Colombia; however, programs like these are helping women rapidly increase their participation in the industry and become high-wage earners. Furthermore, this is a valuable resource for the country’s long-term economic growth. Fostering gender equality in the labor market would improve efficiency, increase industry specialization and decrease unemployment rates, propelling Colombian industry and innovation forward.
  4. Colombia’s civil society has increased social mobilization for women. Efforts from community groups and activist organizations have increased awareness of women’s rights issues in Colombian society. For example, LIMPAL, the Colombian branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, works to protect women’s rights through advocacy and women’s political participation. The organization does much to increase women’s social autonomy, including providing women with training workshops and legal support to better defend their rights and improve quality of life. With greater representation in governmental roles and positions of authority, women have redirected political debates to include a feminist perspective. Women now have greater influence over legislation regarding sexual harassment, equal pay and domestic violence. This has increased national recognition and visibility of the pressing issues impacting women’s rights in Colombia, as well as creating new methods of addressing these issues. Claudia López, the current mayor of Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá, is one female politician who is paving the way for Colombian women, especially those pursuing governmental positions. Elected on October 27, 2019, López became both the first woman and the first openly gay mayor of Bogotá. In her victory, she pledged to fight the misogyny, racism and classism that is still present in Colombian society.

Women’s rights in Colombia continue to progress every year as women occupy more positions of authority and increase their influence over legislation and societal expectations. Colombia has moved away from its patriarchal past, providing women with greater opportunities for education and career success than what was previously available. Hopefully, more progress is in store as Colombia continues to move towards greater gender equality.

– Natasha Cornelissen
Photo: Unsplash

Improved water resources in La Guajira
La Guajira is a department in Colombia, characterized by its limited water supply, underdeveloped infrastructure and desert-like features. In this same vein, the area also experiences frequent and severe droughts. Moreover, many of the rivers and tributaries located in La Guajira run dry due to these unfortunate droughts. Complicating the issue of water insecurity in the department — La Guajira is also home to about 400,000 indigenous people called the Wayuu. As a result, the Wayuu and other people living in La Guajira have to traverse great distances to reach a reliable water supply. Those who do not do this must resort to using wells that sometimes yield contaminated water. Understanding the dire conditions of the people living in this region, the government of Colombia put forth efforts to help create improved water resources in La Guajira.

Government Solutions: An Overarching Strategy

The solution that resulted in improved water resources in La Guajira was the La Guajira Water and Sanitation Infrastructure and Service Management Project. The goal of the project was to create a large scale and overarching strategy to further develop the water supply and sanitation services in La Guajira. The project started in 2007 and came to a close in 2018. The project achieved its goal of bringing about improved water resources in La Guajira by recruiting the private sector to help public municipal companies in their delivery of water resources. Also, the project reached rural areas by building reservoirs where water could flow to the people who need it.

The La Guajira Water and Sanitation Infrastructure and Service Management Project was a success. There were around 422,269 people in La Guajira who benefited from the project by receiving the water supply and sanitation that they so desperately needed. Of that number, 51% were women. There was an increase from 70% to 90% of water services coverage for 409,160 people living in urban areas. Furthermore, sanitation also increased for 362,131 people in urban areas — representing an increase from 53% to 80% in municipalities that participated with the project. By the time the project ended, it had established a clean water supply for about 90% of households within municipalities that worked with the project.

Impact on the Wayuu People

The Wayuu indigenous people and those living in rural areas benefited greatly from the efforts of the project as well. Ten reservoirs that were created to bring water to people living in out-of-reach, rural areas. Moreover, additional infrastructure was also created, such as fences, drinking points for livestock and safety measures for dams. The project also far exceeded its goal of achieving improved water resources for 3,500 Wayuu people. Instead, the project was able to give 8,881 Wayuu people improved water resources.

While work could still be done to create further improvements in water resources in La Guajira — the Colombian government was overall successful in providing the much-needed water resources for people living in the region. Often it is those living in rural locations, especially in countries with desert-like climates, that suffer greatly from water-insecurity. The Colombian government’s efforts to improve the lives of its rural citizens is both commendable and may act as a model for future nations.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Needpix

marshall legacy instituteCountries recovering from war face countless challenges, including their land being contaminated by landmines. Landmines hidden underneath the ground can be active up to 50 years and only take a small amount of pressure to set off. Around the world, landmines kill or injure someone every 40 minutes. The Marshall Legacy Institute is employing dogs to de-activate landmines around the world to help societies move forward from war.

How Landmines Harm Post-War Places

Landmines hinder economic development, as well as the health and safety of populations in post-crisis places. In particular, landmines threaten rural populations. Unlike urban areas, the dangers of landmines deter the building of infrastructure in rural areas. This also prevents the emergence of new opportunities to stimulate the local economy. Landmines also stop agriculture production, resulting in food insecurity.

Every day, landmines kill 12 people globally and threaten the livelihoods of citizens already trying to recover from war. People walking to work, to school or even on their own land may be injured or killed when they step on an unmarked landmine. Those in war-torn countries who become injured by explosions have a harder time escaping poverty than ever before. This is particularly devastating because half of landmine deaths are children. In this situation, hospitals are vital to providing surgeries, rehabilitation and psychological help to victims. Unfortunately, most hospitals that treat landmine injuries are in the cities, while a majority of these accidents affect rural areas. Not receiving help has a lifelong impact on a person’s health, and they face social discrimination and physical challenges when finding work.

Landmines also pose challenges to aid organizations. Refugees are more likely to return home if the land is mine-free and safe. However, aid groups working to assist populations only help safe places and cannot help these rural places in need. Aid groups that do travel to contaminated areas risk their life, as evidenced by the two polio workers who were killed by a landmine blast in Pakistan.

The Marshall Legacy Institute and Mine Dogs

The Marshall Legacy Institute aims to deactivate landmines so that nations can become landmine-free. Founded in 1997 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, the Marshall Legacy Institute promotes long-term peace and stability by saving lives in nations affected by conflict. Though wars may be a distant memory, millions of landmines are still a deadly problem in more than 50 countries around the world. The Marshall Legacy Institute addresses this through programs such as Survivors’ Assistance, Children Against Mines Programs (CHAMPS) and the Mine Dog Protection Partnership Program.

The Mine Dog Protection Partnership Program uses 900 dogs to sniff out and identify landmines in 24 countries. Most landmines contain barely any metal pieces, which makes them challenging to detect. While human de-miners use metal detectors during searches, dogs can smell both plastic and metal to discover landmines. This strong sense of smell allows these explosive-sniffing dogs to search the land 30 times faster than manual teams.

The program trains dogs for three to five to months. They are motivated to find mines through rewards like toys. Donations from people and companies sponsor the dogs, and organizations care for them during their working lives. None of the Marshall Legacy Institute’s dogs have been hurt during a clearance operation. So far, the Mine Dog Protection Partnership has cleared 49 million square meters of contaminated land.

A Future Without Landmines

The Marshall Legacy Institute has been successful in establishing “Mine Free” countries like Bosnia-Herzegovina with help from dogs. The war from 1992 to 1995 in Bosnia-Herzegovina caused 100,000 deaths and scattered millions of landmines throughout the country. After the war, the country had some of the highest number of land mines in the world, placed over an estimated 247,000 acres. More than 8,000 deaths have occurred from landmine accidents in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

To promote safety and development in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Marshall Legacy Initiative created the “Mine Free Sarajevo Project.” In this project, the Mine Dog Protection Partnership Program aims to clear 8 million square meters of landmines in the country. It has already cleared 14,000 square meters of land, which can now be developed into tourist sites and sports facilities. In short, the “Mine Free Sarajevo Project” can help Sarajevo and surrounding regions to finally become mine free.

The Marshall Legacy Institute is currently aiding countries with an immediate call for assistance such as Yemen and Colombia. The Marshall Legacy Institute’s Development Director, Indre Sabaliunaite, shares that “The Marshall Legacy Institute aims to free war-torn and post-conflict countries of landmines. Mine-free land improves the livelihoods of so many people by expanding their financial opportunities and by ensuring that no more children, women, or men will get injured or killed. MLI’s mission is to help countries help themselves. Once the organization removes landmines and other explosives, it returns the land back to the people. This has allowed communities to employ the land for farming, economic development, tourism purposes, and housing development.” By continuing to free land with the help of mine dogs, people can advance from the challenges of war and start their new lives.

Hannah Nelson
Photo: Wikimedia