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

Colombia's Improved Healthcare
Colombia’s healthcare system has improved by leaps and bounds over the past few decades. The country has been able to provide its people with adequate healthcare coverage due to reforms it started making in the 90’s. Colombia offers a variety of healthcare plans to its people, including one that is public and the rest which are private. Also, Colombia is home to 40% of the best hospitals in Latin America.

Additionally, in 2018 and out of 191 countries, Colombia ranked 22nd in healthcare, according to the World Health Organization. To understand Colombia’s improved healthcare, it is important to highlight the process responsible for the success that the system currently enjoys.

The Process

The current state of Colombia’s healthcare traces back to 1993 with the introduction of Law 100. Law 100 stated that all citizens of Colombia, regardless of their financial state, are entitled to a comprehensive healthcare plan. This law created Colombia’s healthcare coverage system called the Sistema General de Seguridad Social en Salud (SGSSS). Colombia uses both general taxation and payroll contributions to ensure that the SGSSS continues receiving funding.

This reform has been beneficial to Colombians in several ways. Just in the first 10 years of the introduction of the SGSSS into law — the number of Colombian citizens that had healthcare coverage skyrocketed. Only 25% of Colombians were covered in 1993 and by 2003 that number was up at 75%. The percentage of people covered by the healthcare system has only risen since 2003. In 2007 about 90% of Colombians received coverage and in 2011, the percentage was at 95%. Other indicators of Colombia’s improved healthcare coverage system is in the country’s improved life expectancy and infant mortality. In 1993, with the introduction of the SGSSS, life expectancy was at 69 years. By 2015, the average life expectancy was at 74 years. The infant mortality rate in Colombia was 21 deaths per 1,000 births in the year 2000. In 2015 the infant mortality rate was down to 14 per 1,000 births.

Healthcare’s Impact on Poverty

Colombia’s improved healthcare has also been extremely beneficial to those living in poverty. For the poorest 20% in Colombia,  healthcare coverage was as low as 4% in 1993. This figure rose to 89% in 2016. Also, Colombians who live in rural areas have had an increase in coverage — rising from 6.6% in 1993 and growing to 92.6% in 2016. Moreover, Colombians all have the same types of health plans available to them. This means that any particular citizen has the same options available for them to choose from as any other citizen. Medical patients’ out-of-pocket spending on health services in Colombia is only at 14%. This figure is much lower than what most citizens in other Latin American countries pay.

A New Challenge

Colombia’s improved healthcare is a product of more than two decades of work and reform. The reforms have allowed many Colombian’s to have the healthcare they need, without the extreme costs. This includes all types of Colombians, regardless of their socio-economic standing. The only challenge to further reforms in Colombia is the growing population within the country. As the country grows so will the population and the amount of money the country spends on its healthcare system. This represents another challenge that the nation should bear in mind, going forward.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Unsplash

Renewable Energy in ColombiaIn the past decade, the nation of Colombia has made great changes to the way that it obtains energy. These changes have allowed the country to become more reliant on its abundant renewable water resources. Today, Columbia relies heavily on hydroelectric power; so much so that it accounts for 65% of its annual energy consumption. During 2010, Colombia saw higher growth than any other country in the use of renewable energy. This is because of the transition to hydropower, with renewable energy generation at 2,543 MW. However, though hydroelectric power accounts for much of the energy production in the country, Columbia also has an abundance of other potential sources, including solar power, biomass and wind. This abundance of renewable energy in Colombia may become necessary in the years to come.

Wind Energy

Wind energy opportunities are extremely abundant in Colombia. Many experts have come to the conclusion that wind energy could sustain Colombia’s current total consumption. One area of Colombia, called La Guajira, is known for its extremely high wind speeds. This region on its own has the potential to provide an estimated capacity of 21GW. Colombia’s first wind farm is actually located in this area. It is possible that more could be installed to increase the potential of wind energy.

Biomass

Biomass is another potential source of renewable energy in Columbia. Due to the large agricultural sector within the nation, there are large amounts of agricultural waste that could be used to generate energy. For example, coffee is the largest agricultural export in Colombia, providing one-fourth of agricultural jobs within Colombia. Bananas and rice are important agricultural products as well;  overall, about 2 million metric tons of bananas and 1.8 million of rice are produced annually. These staple crops create large amounts of agricultural waste, which gives Columbia the potential to create biomass projects that could convert that waste into energy.

The Negatives of Reliance on Hydropower

Renewable energy in Colombia is clearly abundant. Yet, the country is extremely reliant on mostly hydropower. Part of the reason for this preference is due to a 1990s privatization act in Colombia, which led to about 50% of the hydropower production converting to private ownership. However, the use of alternate renewable energy might prove essential to the future of Colombia’s energy.

According to Energy Transition, Colombia’s reliance on hydropower could have negative outcomes. Just like other forms of energy, hydropower can have an invasive effect on the environment: dams that are used to generate hydropower can detrimentally impact various ecosystems, and even cause floods – such as the Hidroituango hydropower plant, which majorly flooded in 2018 and severely impacted the surrounding environment.

About 27% of people in Colombia live in poverty, and that number grows to 36% for those living in more rural locations. Additionally, impoverished and developing nations are often more negatively impacted by natural disasters than other nations. These statistics place impoverished Colombians at a great disadvantage if hydropower triggers any other large-scale environmental event; thus, diversification of energy resources is necessary.

While hydropower has done some good, renewable energy in Colombia still has the potential to be expanded. It can protect important ecosystems and prevent those living in poverty from natural disasters that can be prevented. Renewable energy in Colombia can accomplish this all while paving the way for increased reliance on clean energy.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Unsplash

sustainable farming practices
Nubia Cardenas and her two sons, Jeimer and Arley, live in the countryside of Chipaqué, Colombia, a municipality close to Bogotá, the country’s capital. They have recently become YouTube stars with their channel “Nubia e hijos,” or “Nubia and children.” Many farmers in Colombia grow large fields of onions, potatoes and aromatic herbs for the residents of metropolitan areas. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, food supplies are more difficult to access and food prices are steadily increasing. This makes it more difficult for low-income communities and farmers to get the resources they need to survive. In this context, Cardenas’s YouTube channel, which focuses on sustainable farming practices, is crucial for farmers in Colombia.

Peasant Farming in Colombia

Recent corruption within the Colombian government is putting an even bigger strain on peasant communities throughout Columbia. The former minister of agriculture, Andrés Felipe Arias, created the Agro Ingreso Seguro program to assist poor farmers in the economic downturn. While the program was supposed to be a low-interest line of credit from the government to impoverished farmers, it only benefited wealthy farmers, giving them subsidies greater than 26,000 pesos.

The Agro Ingreso Seguro program might have resulted in a $300 billion diversion of funds, but it enabled the top 1% of the largest farms in Columbia to dominate 81% of the country’s farms, while millions of poor farmers live on tiny plots of land. Although Arias received a 17-year prison sentence over this scandal, his actions greatly impacted impoverished Colombian communities’ access to resources and opportunities they desperately need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Columbia’s economic state and the current state of the world were two major reasons for the creation of the “Nubia e hijos” YouTube channel. The purpose of the channel is to share tips for sustainable farming practices, like how to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs. In doing so, the Cardenas family hopes to ensure that no one will have to go to bed hungry in Colombia.

5 Interesting Facts About the “Nubia e hijos” Channel

  1. The First Video: The family posted its first video without electricity and with little technical knowledge. Neither Cardenas nor her two sons had any knowledge about technology or social media before deciding to create a channel. The family did not even have a laptop to edit the video, but they were still dedicated to sharing their knowledge and helping others. Once the videos went viral, the trio reached out to their neighbor and friend, Sigifredo Moreno, and the social enterprise Huertos de la Sabana to collaborate on the channel’s audiovisual production.
  2. Planting Kits: Along with sharing their extensive cultivation knowledge, the family uses its YouTube platform to sell homemade planting kits to low-income farmers and families. For $5, subscribers can purchase kits that include soil, bags and seeds for planting. For $7, subscribers can purchase kits that include soil, seeds and three potted plants. The Cardenas family hopes that by providing viewers with both the knowledge and resources to enact sustainable farming practices, more individuals will have a constant, affordable and sustainable food supply.
  3. Beyond Food: The Cardenas family uses its platform to discuss other social issues in Columbia besides sustainable farming practices. In the family’s third video, Cardenas, her sister and her two sons discuss the difficulties of living in the countryside and taking virtual classes. Many impoverished families who live in the countryside of Columbia do not have access to the resources necessary to complete virtual classes, such as laptops and the internet. Therefore, the Cardenas family uses its channel to advocate for better tools and instructions for peasant children during COVID-19.
  4. Going Viral: “Nubia e hijos” now has 424,000 subscribers. In 11 days, Cardenas and her two sons posted four videos, which caused the YouTube channel to go viral. Their tips and instructions on how to plant food at home have become very popular and a large audience from all over the world is now viewing the Cardenas family’s videos. The family also has over 170,000 followers on Instagram due to its newfound fame.
  5. Improved Lifestyle: The Cardenas family was able to purchase a laptop due to support from their fans, both subscribers and buyers of their kits. In a recent video, Cardenas’s sons smiled as they show off their new laptop to the camera. The family can now use the laptop to produce more videos to help others like them through sustainable farming practices.

The coronavirus pandemic has limited interaction and communication to strictly online forms. However, the Cardenas family was dedicated to sharing their potentially life-saving knowledge with others. Through the “Nubia e hijos” YouTube channel, the Cardenas family has established an innovative way to improve their own economic situation and help fight hunger and poverty in many parts of the world through sustainable farming practices.

– Ashley Bond
Photo: Flickr

The Transformation of Crime in Medellín, Colombia


The reign of Pablo Escobar left a dark stain on Colombia’s beautiful jungles and colorful streets. The city of Medellín felt it in
particular. This was the hub of his cartel for over 20 years, filling the city with drugs, crime and poverty. Since then, however, crime in Medellín, Colombia has taken such a drastic downturn in the city that many consider it a miracle. Poverty rates have also dropped, and the city is now one of the most progressive urban spaces in the world.

History of High Crime

Pablo Escobar ran the Medellín Cartel from 1972-1993. In 1991, the murder rate of Medellín was 381 per 100,000 residents in a population of 2.1 million, making it the most dangerous city in the world at that time. Even though the city has seen a slight rise in homicide rates since achieving its lowest in history in 2015 (20 per 100,000 residents), it has come a long way, and this is largely due to its implementation of social infrastructure programs.

After Escobar died and the cartel disbanded, officials believed that increased police activity to break up gangs would lower crime rates in Medellín. However, murder rates still soared even after the cartel left. In the first year of an Escobar-free Medellín, the city still had a murder rate of three times that of the rest of the country. It did not match the murder statistics of the rest of the country until 2005 when it finally fell to 37 homicides per 100,000 residents

The Start of a Transformation

Crime and poverty rates did not begin to continuously decline until the implementation of social infrastructure programs. Social infrastructure refers to facilities that include education, health and youth services that promote a high-quality lifestyle. The city has utilized social urbanism, an umbrella term that includes social infrastructure focused on mobility and safe public spaces. These developments have the public good in mind, with the intent of providing better outcomes for peoples’ livelihoods. In Medellín, the government focused on providing access to quality sanitation, clean water and public transportation.

Starting in 2004, the city built beautiful buildings in its poorest neighborhoods. These structures remind those communities that they deserve beauty just like everyone else. This then led to public transportation lines being available in these neighborhoods in order to connect them with the city center, which is also the economic hub. These projects continued to be implemented within marginalized neighborhoods and included: 10 new schools, large parks that doubled as museums and libraries, a cultural center and a public gondola to connect many inaccessible hilltop communities with the rest of the city.

Outcomes and Continued Work

The GDP of Medellín alone now accounts for 10% of the GDP for all of Colombia. In 2015, Medellín claimed the best quality of life in all of Colombia and in all of Latin America. As of 2017, the city saw a 56% decrease in poverty levels, with only 2.8% living in extreme poverty. It also now has the best access to clean water and sanitation than any other city of its size and wealth in Colombia.

MasterPeace is an international organization that works to promote peacebuilding projects in countries coming out of conflict, and/or have high crime rates. The Peace Hub works under MasterPeace in Medellín. It conducts projects such as youth boot camps, art, dance and writing classes. It also promotes the creation of social businesses in order to create solidarity with the community.

These organizations have recognized the importance of utilizing culture and community in bringing peace and reducing crime in Medellín, Colombia.

Conclusion

Peace deals and law enforcement have played an important role in revitalizing and reducing crime in Medellín, Colombia. However, the city flourished because its officials decided to attack the root of the problem. Crime is often a result of desperation from tumultuous conditions. When officials choose to look at root causes of crime, rather than reacting to crimes ex-post, they begin seeking long-term, sustainable solutions. The programs in Medellín are not one size fits all. Still, they teach a valuable lesson on the importance of revitalizing the dignity of marginalized communities. Medellín is a prime example of how access to basic needs can transform cities, as well as countries.

Stephanie Russo
Photo: Flickr