More than 60 indigenous communities are in danger of disappearing as they fall victim to hunger and the ongoing armed conflict, the president of National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) said Thursday.
In an interview with Colombian weekly Semana, Luis Evelis Andrade said, “We believe that in the future if no clear action is taken, indigenous peoples will disappear. (…) [Government] institutions will be responsible for genocide.”
Andrade called hunger the “worst weapon for extermination of indigenous peoples in Colombia,” claiming indigenous communities have been abandoned by the state. He claimed that in certain parts of the country, such as the Choco department, nutritional standards were “equal to those of (…) Somalia and Ethiopia.”
The ONIC leader said bad nutrition was having a worse effect on the Amerindian population than the war with illegal armed groups, but stressed that the cessation of conflict would contribute to a solution.
“Though I cannot deny that the violence deepens and worsens food security, I do not think the guerrillas would oppose giving the indigenous people food or putting in place nutrition programmes for the children,” he said.
The ONIC head said the state must invest more in the youth and implement policies to safeguard the lives of indigenous peoples. He said the government had so far been unable to tackle the problem because of a lack of contact with the affected communities.
“No register exists to show how many indigenous children have died from malnutrition in different regions (…) This is because the children do not leave their territories and so are not recorded in the official system,” he said.
Big business was also playing a role, he added, claiming “the territories which had provided food and a healthy environment have been reduced with the intervention of mining companies and mega-projects.”
The Amerindian population is approximately half a million, one percent of Colombia’s population.