Colombia has been engaged in a conflict between drug traffickers, paramilitaries, and rebel groups for decades.
As a result, millions of Colombians have been displaced from their homes and 10% of the country’s population requires humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile for the past several years, neighboring Venezuela has been "hurtling toward economic, social, and institutional collapse", according to Mercy Corps, which has sparked mass migration and a regional humanitarian crisis.
While many families struggle to survive inside Venezuela, others are leaving the country entirely — with many crossing the border into Colombia. The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is the worst in the Western Hemisphere, adds Mercy Corps, with more than 4 million people now living as refugees or migrants — about 10% of the total population.
With the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic well underway, decent living conditions are becoming even more difficult to maintain.
As the virus continues to spread, Colombia is hoping for both a surge in humanitarian assistance and a long-awaited ceasefire.
While humanitarian organizations are doing what they can to assist vulnerable populations, the coronavirus pandemic comes with unique obstacles of its own.
Global Citizen spoke to Solangie Torres Cavadia, the project coordinator for Mercy Corps in Colombia, about how COVID-19 is impacting the organization’s programs and what the international community can do to help their efforts.
What work do you do within the humanitarian aid sector? Who are the people and communities you work with?
I coordinate a humanitarian project that provides emergency cash assistance. The people participating in our project are Venezuelan migrants who live in the department of Antioquia, Colombia, in the municipalities of Medellín, Bello, Itagüí, and Rionegro; Colombians who have returned to Colombia for the same reasons that the Venezuelan people have migrated; and Colombians who live in the same place the migrant populations are settling.
What are the difficulties and challenges you're facing amid the COVID-19 outbreak?
The vast majority of families we’re working with make a living through informal commerce and pay for their lodging days at a time. They are now unable to work, are facing a lack of money, and are being evicted. They also don’t have resources for food.
What impact is that having on your program participants?
The biggest difficulty for our project is the reduction of movement and shortage of protection elements. This is leading us to think of new ways we can quickly and efficiently meet the needs of the population we’re working with.
What do you as an aid worker need the international community to do to support your work?
We need governments to promote and facilitate humanitarian assistance through cooperation and help us find ways to mobilize and care for the people we’re working with.