Colombia is a country
of contradictions. It is rich in natural resources. With over
44 million inhabitants from indigenous, Spanish and African
origins, it also has a dynamic and diverse culture. But for
the past two decades, Colombia has been ravaged by a violent
internal conflict, involving guerrilla insurgencies, drug
cartels and gross violations of human rights and humanitarian
law. The long-lasting conflict is severely affecting the everyday
life of a great number of people, especially civilians living
in rural areas.
Military actions, threats and temporary
blockades of villages or entire regions by the armed groups
disrupt the functioning of municipal and regional administrations.
As a result, the number of displaced persons (IDPs) has increased.
In order to respond to the humanitarian
needs, the ICRC, present in the country since 1980, has developed
a major operation. It is striving to secure greater respect
for international humanitarian law by all armed groups and
authorities in particular regarding the protection of non-combatants.
It also visits detainees, runs medical programmes in affected
areas and it is providing emergency relief to IDPs and other
victims of the conflict. The Colombian Red Cross takes an
active part in several ICRC activities carried out in this
country, namely in assistance projects and in operational
dissemination programmes to the armed forces and the police.
In the first eight months of this year,
these programmes assisted over 80,000 IDPs and residents in
conflict-affected areas. Among the assistance were emergency
food parcels with rice, beans, vegetable oil, etc., hygiene
kits, cooking utensils and plates, and bedding material.
Valuable help with medium-term infrastructure schemes was
provided by Quick Impact Projects, including constructing
schools and youth and community centres, as well as helping
to build water facilities and health posts.
ICRC mobile health units went in with local medical teams,
ensuring the population had greater access to medical care.
Three National Societies involved — Canada, Norway and
Sweden — focused on medical assistance for civilians
isolated by the conflict. Their work is continuing across
a broad front, ranging from surgical operations and dentistry
to vaccination and prevention campaigns, and improving water
But to achieve all this requires enormous effort, not least
in constantly dealing with security difficulties, logistics,
and ensuring effective coordination. These recent photos by
Carlos Rios give an idea of what humanitarian work is like
in the unpredictable world of Colombia.