Colombia: UN relief chief urges greater efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering

Colombia: UN relief chief urges greater efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes (right) in talks with President Álvaro Uribe Vélez of Colombia
Although progress has been made in addressing the humanitarian suffering in Colombia, particularly high levels of displacement due to conflict and natural disasters, the top United Nations relief official said that more needs to be done.

“I had an honest and constructive dialogue with the Government on the humanitarian situation in Colombia,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said at the end of this three-day visit to the South American nation.

“There has been good progress on laws about internally displaced persons (IDPs), and resources are being made available to address their needs,” Mr. Holmes noted on his return to Bogotá yesterday after visiting members of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities impacted by floods, displacement and violence in the north-west Chocó region of the country.

He stressed that “more is still needed,” adding that he hoped that the budget of La Agencia Presidencial para la Acción Social y la Cooperación Internacional would be maintained, if not increased, despite the current financial crisis, according to a press release issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Speaking about the Afro-Colombian and indigenous people caught up in the conflict in their territories, Mr. Holmes said, “These communities face many risks, including forced recruitment, particularly of children, and many of them are being displaced or confined to their villages.

“We also need to work together more not only on responding to but also preventing displacement,” added Mr. Holmes, who also serves as the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

The difficulties of indigenous communities were illustrated by the recent massacre of members of the Awá indigenous community, in which at least 17 people were killed. Mr. Holmes condemned the massacre and appealed for the return of the bodies of those killed to the communities.

He raised his concerns about the future of these communities with President Alvaro Uribe yesterday and pressed the Government to ratify the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Colombia has recently experienced its harshest, most destructive rainy season on record, affecting one million people and destroying 44,000 hectares of crops. Mr. Holmes stressed the importance of investing in disaster risk reduction and the UN’s interest in working even more closely with the Government on this, as well as on natural disaster preparedness and response systems.