Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the most vulnerable populations in Colombia, aggravating the impact of violence and poverty dynamics, natural disasters and large mixed-migration movements. As a result, the number of people in need increased from 5.1 million in 2019 to 6.7 million by the end of 2020.
More than 1.2 million COVID-19 cases and over 34,500 deaths were reported by November. Although strict Government measures and response efforts have successfully mitigated the pressure on the health system, they could not entirely prevent the spread of the disease and had negative socioeconomic consequences. The unemployment rate has increased by 55 per cent, further in-creasing monetary and extreme poverty in the country. Despite national authorities’ rapidly increasing social safety-net programmes, food insecurity has increased significantly; an estimated 3.5 million Colombians are severely food insecure and require urgent, life-saving assistance.
Maternal mortality rates and those of children under age 5 have increased in some areas, and the closing of educational facilities due to COVID-19 left 10 million children, including refugee and migrant children, out of school for half a year. This will have a lasting impact on youth. Women and girls have been disproportionally affected by food insecurity and loss of employment, among others.
Despite the 2016 Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict, which brought a period of relief unseen in decades, IEDs, displacement, general attacks against the population and civil infrastructure occur regularly in parts of the country. In some areas, illegal armed groups took advantage of the pandemic-related situation to expand their territorial presence, which has led to hostilities and increased control over communities. In the second half of the year, the country witnessed an uptick in violence and killings, forced confinement, access restrictions, GBV and explosive hazard contamination, aggravating protection needs. Concerns regarding a continued high level of recruitment and use of children by armed groups remain. Children, youth and women, as well as Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities, have been disproportionally affected.
Projected situation in 2021 and beyond
The humanitarian situation in the country is expected to remain critical during 2021. With the persistence of rural poverty, inequality, land disputes and the widespread presence of illicit crops, armed violence is bound to persist in the country. Protection risks are thus expected to remain severe in the areas with presence and under influence or partial control of armed groups.
The pandemic will continue to represent a risk. Unless a vaccine is made available to the most vulnerable and rural populations, the risk of contagion in many municipalities without sufficient prevention and response capacities, and often access, remain high. Reduced global commodity prices of Colombia’s key exports, as well as the severe impact on critical sectors such as tourism, are likely to delay economic recovery and impact food security. Reduced humanitarian funding and exceeded operational and budgetary capacity of local administrations risks limiting response capacity.
Response priorities in 2021
As of November, humanitarian actors have complemented the Government’s response by providing assistance to over 1.2 million people. Of these, 940,000 people across the country received assistance related to the impact of COVID-19, with a particular focus on GBV survivors. Some 600,000 of the most vulnerable Colombians affected by armed violence and natural disasters – particularly indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities – also received life-saving assistance through the Humanitarian Response Plan in the departments of Chocó, Nariño, Norte de Santander and Cauca, among others.
However, UN agencies and their partners continue to face access restrictions and are experiencing obstructions and direct threats from armed groups. At least 242 attacks against medical missions and health workers were registered during the first nine months of 2020, representing a 63 per cent increase in comparison to the previous year. Limited funding for the COVID-19 Plan and the HRP have also hampered response efforts.
In 2021, the humanitarian response in Colombia will focus on communities in remote rural areas where morbidity/mortality rates are high, hostilities persist, coping capacities are insufficient and the impact of natural disasters, mixed-migration inflows and the pandemic are disproportionally severe. Humanitarian actors will aim to provide more integrated multisectoral response, protect and save lives through humanitarian assistance and protection, and contribute to lasting solutions using a protection, gender and differential approach. They will further engage in prevention and disaster preparedness measures and more effectively complement the Government’s own response. Enhancing rapid response mechanisms across the most affected territories will also be a priority.