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

Poverty in Colombia
Macroeconomic trends show there has been equitable growth in Colombia. While as of 2017, Colombia held the second-highest wealth inequality rate in Latin America, only slightly better than Brazil, it has been on a downward trend since 2000. Additionally, poverty in Colombia dropped by 15% between 2008 and 2017 to a low of 27%. Extreme poverty reduced by half from 2002 to 2014, with more than 6 million people moving out of poverty. This put more Colombians in the middle class than in poverty for the first time. Finally, between 2008 and 2017, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a rate of 3.8%. This is more than twice as fast as the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).


However, increasing exports drive much of the recent growth and reduction in poverty in Colombia. Commodity prices have risen significantly over the past several years. This growth is unsustainable, as a recent drop in prices has hindered the export industry. Colombia has also been struggling with such issues as a lack of financial inclusion, low productivity, low-skilled workers and a large informal economy.

The informal economy consists of such jobs as farm workers, taxi drivers and street vendors where “they make no direct tax contributions, have no security of employment and do not receive pensions or other social benefits.” As of May 2014, informal workers made up nearly two-thirds of the Colombian labor force. This means millions do not possess a dependable income. They do not have the opportunity to contribute to or receive a pension fund or other government benefits. For these reasons, the large informal sector is also a big contributor to inequality and poverty in Colombia.

Another major issue holding back Colombia has been its decades-long internal struggle for peace. Nearly a quarter-million Colombians have died from the conflict, with 25,000 disappearances and nearly 6 million displaced. Although a peace agreement was reached in 2016, tensions are still high in the country between the government and the rebel militia.


Nonetheless, steps are occurring to ensure that Colombia is able to continue its recent progress. With nearly 6 million people displaced because of the internal conflict, land restitution is a key step to make. With the help of the World Bank, 1,852 land restitution legal cases occurred by the end of 2014. Additionally, the World Bank helped the Colombian government give reparations to those the conflict affected, with a focus on Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups who the conflict disproportionately affected.

Some are using digitalization and technology to help formalize businesses by simplifying the registration process and making tax collection more efficient, enabling businesses and individuals to pay taxes and contribute to the pension system and providing them access to many social benefits. Digitalization also provides greater access to financial services. This is occurring by providing micro-credits, expanding the outreach of banking services, lowering the cost of financial services and simplifying electronic payments.

USAID’s Role in Poverty Reduction in Colombia

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has also helped decrease poverty in Colombia by increasing the presence of democratic institutions in the country. Through this, the USAID hopes to “foster a culture of respect for human rights, promote access to justice, increase public investment and provide services to historically underserved and conflictive rural areas.” This organization fights for inclusive growth and encourages investment in rural areas. Additionally, it helps producers expand their market, provides financial services and helps restore the land to its original owners before the conflict.

All of these efforts and many more are helping reduce poverty in Colombia. The goal is to keep the country on a path toward equitable and inclusive development that leads to a reduction of inequality.

Scott Boyce
Photo: Flickr

 ColombiaEver since the rise of drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s, Colombia has been an easy target for negative media portrayals and has been susceptible to misrepresentation. Movies and TV shows provide the best examples of how the media misrepresents Colombia, because they often show the country as a war zone filled with drugs.

Although this may have been true at one time, it is no longer the case, and the media’s depiction of the past should not be mistaken for the present state of the country.

How the Media Misrepresents Colombia: Drug Lords and Cocaine

Hollywood has portrayed the lavish life of Colombian cartel leaders and the danger of Colombian guerrilla groups for many years; however, the Netflix show Narcos, which is a great example of how the media misrepresents Colombia, has recently brought more attention to the country’s dark past and has sparked an interest in Pablo Escobar, along with the Cali and Medellin cartels. The show now attracts more than three million viewers.

Pablo Escobar’s son, Sebastian Marroquin, has spoken out against Narcos for glorying his father’s crimes. “Series about narcos have turned my father into a hero and given young people the idea that it is cool to be a drug trafficker. I am not against telling stories, but I am against glorifying criminals and showing trafficking as glamorous,” he told El Periodico.

When an advertisement for Narcos was displayed in Madrid’s central square, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos spoke out against the show in a radio interview by saying, “we Colombians lived the drama of Pablo Escobar and that suffering still hurts. Escobar should not be held up as a hero and honoring [him] goes against everything that is right.”

In addition to shows about Pablo Escobar, the American media widely covers the activity in drug-producing countries like Colombia; however, the abundant supply of drugs only continues if it is met by a demand for drugs in first world countries. Many of the people producing coca leaves are farmers looking to put food on the table for their families.

It is true that Colombia produces the majority of the world’s cocaine, but if people around the world were not consuming it, the supply may not have continued for this long. For instance, in a Washington Post article that covers cocaine use in the United States, the author places blame on Colombia’s producers and smugglers, yet only speaks of the consumer briefly by stating the rise in consumption and wraps it up by saying, “This surge in consumption can be traced directly to Colombia’s bumper harvest,” instead of further analyzing other factors that could result in an increase in American drug consumption.

The Reality: Peace and Development

A lot of good things are happening in Colombia, but the media ignores these events because they are not as exciting or dramatic as the war on drugs. A new era is here for the Colombian people and it deserves as much coverage as the war.

In 2016, the famous Colombia Peace Treaty put an end to a 52-year war between Colombia’s Armed Revolutionary Forces and the government. Additionally, the government is also carrying out negotiations with ELN, another armed guerrilla group which has caused violence in the country for decades. This led to President Santos being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

The newly gained political and economic stability has opened up the country for business. The poverty rate in the country has fallen from 20 percent in 2001 to 4.5 percent in 2016. According to the World Bank’s 2017 ease of doing business report, Colombia ranks 53rd out of 190 countries, ranking only below Mexico in Latin America. Additionally, the country seems to be moving forward with technological development. In 2012, Medellin was named the innovative city of the year.


This is one of the common themes in how the media misrepresents Colombia. While it would be incorrect to claim there are no drugs or conflicts in Colombia, it is also incorrect to claim that cartels are operating at the same scale as they were in the 1980s and 1990s. The Medellin and Cali cartels were dismantled when the Colombian government, along with the U.S. government and DEA, carried out the assassination or incarceration of their leaders.

Although drug production continues, a violent drug empire that attempts to control the government, such as Pablo Escobar’s, no longer exists. Even though Colombia was considered a fragile state for years after Escobar’s death, ranking 14th in the 2005 Fragile State Index, it has now fallen to 71st in 2018. Colombia’s safety has improved greatly in the past 20 years.

As of January 2018, the U.S. Department of State has upgraded Colombia to a Level 2 country for travel after being considered a Level 3 country for many years. This means that instead of being a country that Americans should reconsider traveling to, it is now considered a country that can be visited with reasonable caution. Additionally, the New York Times has named Colombia as one of the top places to visit in 2018.

The media represents Colombia as it was in the 1980s and fails to report on the many changes that the country has undergone since this tragic time. The Colombian people are ready for a new chapter in their nation’s history and the media should accurately represent their efforts to close the chapter on war and drug trafficking and beginning an era of peace and stability.

– Luz Solano-Flórez

Photo: Flickr

Facts about Poverty in Colombia 
Colombia is a beautiful country with a landscape marked by rainforests, Andes mountains and numerous coffee plantations, but poverty in Columbia remains a problem. Below are facts about Columbia’s poverty problem.

10 Facts About Poverty in Colombia

  1. The population living below the poverty line is 34 percent. Though the economic growth of Colombia is among one of the world’s emerging economies, more than three out of ten Colombians still live in poor conditions. Colombia is also the world’s seventh most inequitable country.
  2. Colombia’s unemployment rate grew to 9.4 percent in 2017, making it the country with the highest unemployment rate in Latin America after Venezuela. According to Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics, another 8.5 percent of the population was underemployed in the last quarter of 2017.
  3. Colombia has been experiencing violent internal conflicts for more than 50 years. Since 1985, over 5.9 million Colombians have been displaced. People then migrate to urban areas and create informal settlements on the cities’ borders.
  4. There are about 3.8 million households, nearly 30 percent of all families in Colombia, that do not have adequate homes according to Ministry of Housing estimates. About 662,146 families are homeless, which is five percent of the population.
  5. Colombia’s informal settlements result in challenges. These include lack of access to basic services, poor structural quality and low accessibility to resources for the progressive construction of a house. There is a lack of secure land tenure, meaning people are building homes on land they don’t own. Informal settlements also result in limited access to social and health services, education and employment possibilities.
  6. Colombia has dealt with internal struggle for more than 50 years. According to The World Bank, if the country had found even 20 previous years of peace, the income per capita could have been 50 percent higher than it is now. Economic growth was responsible for over 70 percent of extreme poverty reduction between 2002 and 2013.
  7. More than 12.7 million people in Colombia live on less than $2 a day. According to Opportunity Colombia, an organization to enable marginalized people to engage in the local economy, only 2.5 percent of Colombians are using microfinance services.
  8. Additional facts about poverty in Colombia show that in rural areas, more than 7 million people are poor and 2 million are living in extreme poverty.
  9. The unequal distribution of the country’s wealth and welfare resources affects Colombian people and is a cause of poverty. The country’s income concentration is very high compared to the international averages. The per capita income of the richest ten percent is 46 times greater than those of the poorest ten percent.
  10. In 81 percent of poor rural homes in Colombia, there is no connection to the piped-water network. Additionally, 68 percent of the population suffers from overcrowding.

These facts about poverty in Colombia will help provide a better understanding of the social and economic situation in the country, as well as the progress made and the work that still needs to be done.

– Julia Lee

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in ColombiaIn recent years, Colombia has successfully taken measures to reduce the issues that contribute to poverty, particularly in the worse urban areas. However, land displacement due to violent conflict still causes a significant portion of the population to be affected by extreme poverty in Colombia.

Approximately 29 percent of the population of Colombia live in extreme poverty. The constant violence and illegal occupation in Colombia is partly at fault for the number of those who continue to struggle. Families who have been displaced struggle to provide their daily needs, particularly the indigenous and Afro-Latino communities.

Small farmworkers in particular are victims of displacement, as the recent reduction in poverty in Colombia is partly due to many of the small farmers abandoning their careers to find new work in urban areas with less conflict. Here, they are able to generate sustainable income and provide for their families.

However, as is the case in many impoverished urban areas, there is little security of employment or reliable access to education and health services. While the lack of human security allows the issues contributing to poverty to fester, Colombia has been lately successful at poverty reduction by focusing on reducing crime and conflict in the two largest cities, Bogota and Medellin. By targeting these areas, surrounding cities have also improved.

In the past decade, the number of citizens living in extreme poverty in Colombia has been cut in half. Doing so through times in conflict shows the overall ability of Colombians to reduce poverty, the results of which would be vastly greater if violent conflicts could be reduced as well.

Gerardo Corrochano says when speaking to the World Bank, “The current face of Colombia is completely different and its future, promising.” With continued international aid and investment in infrastructure, Corrochano believes that Colombia can eradicate poverty and sustain peace for the people. Colombia is now considered to have a more middle class than an impoverished population, which displays the progress that the nation has already made.

Amanda Panella
Photo: Flickr

buenaventura_colombiaBuenaventura, Colombia, home to approximately 300,000 residents, has consistently been ranked one of Colombia’s (and South America’s) deadliest cities. It is home to the nation’s highest homicide rate at 144 murders per 100,000 people—more than seven times the rate of the nation’s capital, Bogota. In this seaside port town, fishermen and gang members have lived together in a fatal balance for years, contributing to the town’s notorious reputation. In recent months, however, the level of violence has exploded, leading many residents to leave the city in search of a safer life elsewhere.

Colombia has been described by some as a country with two faces: one face is the Colombia of the elite and wealthy, while the other is a Colombia marked by violence, gang lords and a vicious drug trade. Once considered too dangerous for visitors due to a brutal civil war between various factions of the government and paramilitary groups, which began in 1964, Colombia has since cleaned itself up, with major cities like Bogota and Medellin now considered hot-spots for tourism. Despite massive improvements that have benefitted the country in recent years, as of 2013 an astonishing 30.6 percent of the population was living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Colombia also remains the world’s largest cocaine producer, supplying 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States.

Buenaventura, a port town located on the Pacific Coast, is a perfect example of the way in which these “two faces” can collide.

On the one hand, Buenaventura struggles with a legacy of violence that continues to characterize the culture of the city today. During the 1980s, the city was a battleground between leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FARC, and right-wing paramilitary groups. When the FARC were driven out, paramilitary groups established themselves and began to engage in gang activity, helping to carve the city into rival gang territories and the port into an important regional focal point for the export of cocaine. According to a Human Rights Watch report, these groups have taken the lives of many Buenaventura residents, who are often dismembered in so-called “chop houses” for unwittingly crossing between gang territories.

On the other hand, due to its strategic location on the coast, Buenaventura has recently become the centerpiece of a government strategy to increase Colombian trade with Asian and Western countries on the Pacific, such as the United States, Chile, Mexico and Peru. To achieve this goal, the central government in Bogota has invested millions in development projects, such as the construction of a container port and industrial park, as well as the construction of a major waterfront development project that authorities hope will help attract tourism.

Residents, however, have argued that there is a link between the recent rise of violence in the city and the development projects. Locals, for instance, point to the fact that much of the violence has been concentrated in and has affected locals living in areas along the port. Residential habitation of the area obstructs government plans to turn the area into a tourist destination.

In response to protracted levels of violence in the town, which has recently received increased media attention, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos finally intervened last year, sending in an emergency infusion of cash as well as police officers from the capital.

According to Colonel Marcelo Russi, the police commander in Buenaventura, the added law enforcement has helped to dramatically reduce the murder rate and number of disappearances in the city. Alexander Micolta, the executive president of the Buenaventura Chamber of Commerce, however, has stated that not enough is being done to effectively eradicate violence from the city. “Here, everything that has to do with the port advances. But the city doesn’t advance,” Micolta said.

In order to save Buenaventura, it is evident that money invested in the city needs to be focused on protecting the people who actually live there instead of in efforts to attract foreign investment and tourist capital. Otherwise, the city’s long history of violence and gang activity will continue to perpetuate itself and invade every corner of the city once the police presence leaves. If that happens, then Colombia’s “two faces” will persist to rear their ugly heads in tandem in the country’s small, sea-side city of Buenaventura.

Ana Powell

Sources: New York Times 1, New York Times 2, World Bank
Photo: War on Want