A mismanagement of public funds and continued political apathy are fueling the ongoing food crisis in the arid state of La Guajira, according to evidence presented by a state senator and testimony from civil representatives.
According to data presented by Senator and former governor of La Guajira Jorge Ballesteros, 2,969 children have died in the past six years, 278 from starvation, and 2,691 from other largely preventable diseases — 98.5% of which were indigenous, and 62.5% of which occurred in under one year.
Ballesteros told Colombia Reports that corruption in the allocation of government resources is among the many factors that have contributed to the current crisis in La Guajira, adding that the northern state has double the child mortality rate of other in the country and, in some cases, triple.
According to the senator, only 30% of all government resources allotted for La Gaujira, including food programs, actually reach the intended communities.
The numerous entities and departments providing aid programs include the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF), the Department for Social Prosperity, the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, and Education.
Support from a state and municipal level includes the Program for Food Security and Nutrition (PAN), led by the state government.
Local indigenous leader and former employee of the ICBF, Maria Pana, told Colombia Reports that programs generate waste due to lack of communication with locals.
“They send dried beans, but people have no water to cook with. They send nutritional powders, but there is no drinking water,” she said.
During a Congressional debate on Tuesday, Ballesteros initiated a discussion regarding political control and accountability in La Guajira, and proposed that the government employ the Departmental Public Health Observatory to review the operations and the role of stakeholders in the health sector.
According to the senator, this includes private intermediary service providers already notorious for mismanaging public funds.
Ballesteros stated that while the debate resulted in a promise of more government funds, no measures were adopted to address the institutional oversight that causes 70% of government resources to get lost on the way to remote communities in need.
Indigenous leader Matilde Apushaina, a representative of National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), told Colombia Reports that the meeting confirmed the government’s long-standing apathy regarding problems in La Guajira.
“Ultimately what is lacking is support; there is no political will to help the indigenous communities,” concluded Apushaina.
A perfect storm
“We have a complex situation in the north, including the convergence of poor health services, food shortages which have been exacerbated by the Venezuelan crisis, extreme poverty, and harsh conditions that prohibit farming,” Ballesteros said.
La Guajira, a largely desert region, also lacks potable water. Remote communities rely entirely upon rainwater collected in ‘jagueys,’ muddy depressions carved into the desert soil to save water during the rainy season.
Due to the extreme drought in Colombia’s northern region this year, the jagueys are dry.
- Interview with Matilde Apushaina of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) (Colombia Reports)
- Interview with Senator Jorge Ballesteros (Colombia Reports)
- Niegan Tutela Por Niños Muertos En La Guajira (El Heraldo)
- La Guajira registra el doble de mortalidad infantil por desnutrición (Senate press release)
- Conclusiones debate sobre DESNUTRICIÓN EN LA GUAJIRA (Press release)
- Debate de control políticocrisis de seguridad alimentaria y nutricional en La Guajira (H.S. Jorge Eliécer Ballesteros Bernier, Comisión Séptima de Senado, 29 de Abril de 2014)