Monday, 20 April 2015 20:22

Colombia: Poverty, Inequality and Drugs

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While the correlation between poverty, inequality and social conflict is complex, it is important to remember that the Colombian conflict has its origin, in part, in the absence of human security (security on the land, security of employment, security of access to quality health care and education). This dynamic forms part of a vicious cycle, whereby conflict extends and also deepens poverty and inequality.

The lucrative drugs trade provides huge profits for paramilitary and guerrilla groups, and is an important motor in the perpetuation of the conflict and violence. In addition, illegal groups are now gaining huge profits from providing machinery and protection for mining, as well as carrying out illegal mining themselves.

Grass-roots experience, often supported by international cooperation, shows that it is both possible and feasible to begin to redress inequality and exclusion and to alleviate poverty. Alternative development initiatives have been undertaken to help rural communities replace coca crop cultivation and guarantee sustainable livelihoods for small-scale farmers. Such efforts, if accompanied and strengthened by public policies that go beyond welfare aid, could have a real and lasting impact on levelling out persisting inequalities.

Poverty and Inequality

Colombia is a middle income country where a large proportion (30.6%) of the population live in poverty. [1] Colombia is also the third most unequal country in Latin America and tenth in the world. [2] Furthermore, poverty and inequality disproportionately affects women, children, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous groups and displaced persons.

The poverty gap is most evident between rural and urban areas: 42.8% of the rural population are poor compared to 26.9% in urban areas. The same is also true in the case of extreme poverty: in rural areas 19.1 per cent live in extreme poverty compared to 6 per cent in urban areas. [3]

There is a small overall poverty reduction in Colombia: the number of people suffering in extreme poverty in rural areas has decreased from 22.1% in 2011 to 19.1% in 2013. [4] However, the rate of urbanisation has increased, with a 1.65 percentage of annual rate of change in Colombia’s urban population. [5] Even though overall poverty levels have reduced, extreme rural poverty was 3.18 times higher than urban poverty in 2013. [6]

Rural poverty is of particular concern given that poverty and exclusion in rural areas has traditionally been one of the root causes of socio-political violence in the country and continues to be an important conflict accelerator.

Colombia’s reduction in overall poverty has been achieved largely by targeted and rapid poverty reduction in Bogota and Medellin. From 2005 to 2012 poverty in Colombia’s two largest cities fell by an average of 23.3%, compared to just 7.6% for the slightly smaller cities of Barranquilla and Cali over the same period. [7] This shows that whilst more work needs to be done to reduce rural poverty, efforts also need to be put into reducing poverty at a greater rate in other Colombian cities.

It is also important to note that the way the Colombian Government collects poverty statistics changed in 2001, which in turn has led to a reduction in the number of people classified as living in poverty. For example, using the old method poverty rates for 2010 appear as 44.2%, however according to the new method this figure falls to 37.2% for the same year. [8]

The Land Issue

One area where rural inequality is most profoundly expressed is in the inequitable distribution of land. Land concentration in Colombia is biased towards large landowners at the expense of rural small-scale farmers: little more than 1% of landowners own more than half of rural land. [9]

Concentration of land ownership has increased over recent years, fuelled by the forced displacement of rural communities: it is estimated that around 8 million hectares of land have been abandoned by people fleeing the conflict. [10] Unequal landownership deprives rural farmers of a livelihood and so perpetuates income inequality. Additionally, by reducing the land available for small-scale farmers to produce food for subsistence, unequal landownership contributes to food insecurity, resulting in health problems including malnutrition, anaemia, calcium deficiencies, and deficiencies in calorie intake.

Photo credit: CAFOD

Poverty and Vulnerability

Poverty involves the systematic violation of economic, social and cultural rights that affect almost every sphere of life, and which are frequently inter-dependent. Very few poor people work in the formal sector, which would allow them access to health care or pension benefits. Thus the income poverty from which they suffer is further aggravated by insecurity and by the inadequacy of the social services to which they have access.
In addition, poor quality and access to education disproportionately affect children from poor families, making it even harder for them to ever break the cycle of poverty.

Source: http://www.abcolombia.org.uk/mainpage.asp?mainid=76

Technology must be leveraged as a key tool for fighting poverty and helping spur businesses that can boost the social inclusion of very low-income Colombians, who make up 30.6 percent of the population, the deputy information and communications technology minister said.

During the opening in this Caribbean city of the 2014 Andicom congress, Latin America's largest and oldest in the ICT sector, Maria Carolina Hoyos said the "industry has the enormous challenge of building businesses based on connectivity."

"Colombian entrepreneurs must focus on creating technological tools that facilitate social inclusion for the 30.6 percent of the population that lives in poverty and for the 9.1 percent of (the population) in extreme poverty," the official said Wednesday.

Hoyos said IT developers should not try to compete with Silicon Valley, hub for the world's most innovative technology companies, because it is "simply impossible."

Instead, the goal of this new generation of Colombian entrepreneurs should be to "develop applications and digital content" for the lower strata that make up 74.1 percent of all households in Colombia, she said.

In that regard, Hoyos said 96 percent of Colombia's municipalities are now connected to the Internet via fiber-optic cables, 94.7 percent of homes have at least one cellular phone and 42.2 percent of families have a computer.

But "technology alone does not reduce the digital divide. In fact, it can widen the gap between rich and poor," she said.

In underscoring the market potential that low-income consumers represent, Hoyos cited Inter-American Development Bank figures showing "people at the poverty line spend $5 trillion annually worldwide."

Netflix, Waze, Bitcoin, Salesforce, Twitter, BuzzFeed and Daily Mail are among the firms with a presence at this year's Andicom, which ends on Friday. EFE

Colombian authorities on Wednesday reported that poverty levels in the country are lower than those of the previous year.

According to the Department of planning (DNP) and the Department of statistics (DANE) show a reduction of 2.9% of people living in poverty in Colombia when comparing July 2013 to June 2014, to figures from 2012-2013.

DANE reports that figures fell by 2.4% in Colombia cities and 4.4% in less populated areas.

FACT SHEET: Poverty and inequality statistics

Colombia is the third most populated country in Latin America, with an estimated population of 47.1 million. According to international charity organisation the World Food Programme (WFP) 75 percent of the population live in urban areas.

Despite its middle-income country status, 23 million Colombians are poor and 6 million live below the extreme poverty line.

Data provided by the World Bank shows a steady decline in poverty levels in Colombia since 2004, from nearly 47% of the population living below the poverty line in 2004 to 32 % in 2012.

Government officials put the figure at 29.3 % for 2013-2014 period.

What is considered poverty in Colombia?
The international monetary level under which a person is considered to be living in poverty is calculated by taking the poverty threshold from each country – given the value of the goods needed to sustain one adult – and converting it to dollars.

The international poverty line was originally set at approximately one dollar a day.

According to DANE the amount of money below which a person in Colombia would be considered in poverty was COP$208,404 per month ($105), broken down to a daily income of COP6,947 CP ($3.50) which would provide a sufficient amount of food and services to live.

The poverty level requirement differ between urban areas, where the price of living and basic necessities are more expensive, and in rural areas, where accommodation and basic food stuffs are expected to be cheaper.

For 2013 DANE set the levels in Colombia for urban zones at COP7,663 ($3.80) per day or in rural areas at COP4,587 ($2.30) per day.

Good news for President Santos
Government figures show that about 1.5 million less Colombian citizens are living below the poverty line compared to figures from last year.

Since President Juan Manuel Santos became president in July 2010, there has been a reduction of 9.7% of the population living below the poverty line.

Upon the release of the figures President Santos said: “Our aim is to eradicate extreme poverty in 10 years and reduce the figure by five percentage points in five years “.

Santos added that this is the first time in history a government of Colombia achieved these levels of reduction in poverty indicators.

Source: http://colombiareports.co/poverty-levels-continue-fall-colombia-according-government-stats/

The Ministry of Health announced that the government will “adopt new methods to confront the sanitary situation and with attention to health.”

This information was accompanied by shocking statistics about the number of preventable deaths in Choco so far this year.

Twenty deaths were listed in the bulletin, including those of children younger than five years old. Eighteen of the cases were related to the consumption of contaminated water.

The deaths took place in no less than five municipalities of Choco, confirming that the dangerous lack of sanitation is a widespread problem of the region.

This is not the first time that the Colombian government has identified the population of Choco’s urgent need for help. A visit was made to the region in July of last year and alarms were raised then, with no subsequent action.

“All rates are incredibly bad,” Todd Howland, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, commented at the time.

Choco is the department of Colombia with the highest rates of poverty. According to national statistics, 78.5% of the population of Choco lives below the poverty line, with 48.7% considered to be living in extreme poverty.

While 37% of Colombians have unmet basic needs (such as drinking water or primary education), in Choco this figure is 81%, the July 2014 report exposed.

The Ministry of Health’s latest bulletin comes following the visit of Howland and Colombian Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otalora to Choco last week. The officials verified a severe situation of access to health services and high number of preventable infant deaths.

They even reported to have personally witnessed the death of a minor due to diarrheal disease caused by a lack of drinking water upon a visit to the Riosucio health center.

This area of Riosucio will be the primary focus of government attention, along with other municipalities Bagado and Medio San Juan.

Deputy Minister of Public Health Fernando Ruiz Gomez confirmed that a special commission of the Ministry of Health will move to these areas on 11, 12 and 13 March to ensure prompt care to those in most urgent need.

The Ministry also undertook a thorough review of Choco’s healthcare system, in order to restore effective access of the population to essential health services. The community claims that the there is little medical personnel at present, and even fewer specialists.

“The current health care system in the Choco is a failure,” was the statement given by the indigenous people of the region in the report of last year.

Finally, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection plans to continue working in coordination with both the Ministry of Water and Sanitation and the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), as it has done since last February, to solve the structural problem of basic sanitation conditions in the department of Choco.

“Choco is another Colombia for the national government,” said Lucy Chamorro, representing the Indigenous Department Table, responding to the fact that the no effective government action has followed previous visits to the department of Choco.

Source: http://colombiareports.co/colombia-turns-attention-to-extreme-poverty-in-pacific-west/