Meeting with members of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities impacted by floods, displacement and violence in Colombia, the top United Nations relief official last week called for stepped up assistance for these minority groups. Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes travelled to the northwest Chocó department, where leaders in the Afro-Colombian community of Bebedó described the destruction of their homes by severe flooding last year, when the San Juan River broke its banks. Also in the same town, he met with representatives of the Wounaan indigenous people who told him how they had been uprooted from their traditional lands in 2005 by armed gangs.
Holmes also visited with 22 members of the Katio indigenous people, who were displaced after the murder of one of their members by an illegal armed group three weeks ago. They told the coordinator that they wish to return to their community as soon as possible, but are held back by fear of further violence.
“This visit illustrated in vivid fashion the problems of those minority communities and the need for a determined response by the government and the international community, working together, to find durable solutions,” Holmes said before returning to Bogotá to meet with President Alvaro Uribe. (UN News Centre, Feb. 25)
Last month’s floods also hit the southern port city of Tumaco along the Mira River in Nariño department on Colombia’s Pacific coast, leaving at least six dead and 24,000 homeless. 27 people are still missing. The floods washed away at least 247 houses, and many areas of the city remain with no access to clean water, electricity and gas. Rains also caused rivers to flood in neighboring Cauca department. local authorities noted the unprecedented scale of the disaster in this region of Colombia. “It is the first time that flooding has affected coastal towns as well as the Andean area of Nariño at the same time,” said Lina Dorado, from the Regional Office on Prevention and Disasters. (Semana, Bogotá, Feb. 27; Colombia Reports, Feb. 17)