Needs of displaced persons in Colombia must be met, top UN official says

24 February 2009

The United Nations’ top humanitarian official, on the first day of his mission to Colombia to assess relief operations for victims of natural disaster and civil strife, saluted actions taken but said much more must be done to protect civilians and aid displaced persons.

“It is clear that there is a serious humanitarian situation in Colombia, particularly the problems of

millions of internally displaced persons, and that there is a requirement collectively to do more to

respond to these needs,” John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said yesterday in the capital city of Bogotá.

During a day of meetings, Mr. Holmes saw ministers and senior officials in the Government of Colombia, as well as humanitarian actors from the UN, Colombian civil society, and non-governmental aid organizations.

Government figures visited included the country’s ministers of justice and foreign affairs, its director of the Department for Prevention and Response to Disasters (DPAD) and its presidential advisor for social action.

“Mr. Holmes praised the Government’s action and progress achieved, but urged increased dialogue on the humanitarian situation and the necessary response, particularly on protecting civilians,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a press release.

There was also agreement on the need to increase prevention and preparedness for natural disasters, OCHA added.

The country has recently suffered the harshest, most destructive rainy season on record, which wreaked havoc on the Sucre, Bolivar and Chocó provinces, affecting one million people and destroying 44,000 hectares of crops.

In addition, continued violence has caused large-scale internal displacement in many areas.

In a meeting with a large group of representatives from Colombian civil society, including

indigenous people and Afro-Colombian, human rights, women’s and youth groups, Mr. Holmes heard a wide range of concerns about the consequences of such displacement and the continuing violence.

Mr. Holmes expressed particular concern about the situation of indigenous and Afro-Colombian

communities, following the recent killing of members of the Awá group in a remote area in the country’s south-west which the UN refugee agency says suffers from some of the worst forced displacement.

“There is a need to pay particular attention to the future of indigenous people and other vulnerable groups that have a special dependency on and attachment to their lands,” Mr. Holmes said.

Today, Mr. Holmes is travelling to the Chocó region, where he is expected to meet with Afro-Colombians, indigenous communities, and groups of displaced persons.


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Top UN official visits Colombia next week to assess relief operations

The United Nations humanitarian chief is slated to visit Colombia early next week to see for himself the response of relief agencies working in the country, and meet with indigenous communities, Government officials and representatives of civil society groups.