New people displaced by the armed conflict in the Nariño department, Colombia

MSF calls for increasing care provision for these internally displaced people.

The armed conflict is intensifying across Nariño Department, in the southwest of Colombia, where various armed groups are fighting for the land due to its strategic relevance, presence of coca crops and economic interest.

According to official figures, from the beginning of the year to the end of September over 12,400 people have been displaced in Nariño, outstripping the Government’s response capacity. Mostly, these people receive little or no care during the first days following their arrival.

Since last June, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has provided care to those affected by eight massive displacements in the department, where approximately 4,000 people fled the countryside to nearby towns in search of safety.

“We are providing care to those displaced, having fled the ongoing fighting between the armed actors,” explained David Cantero, MSF General Coordinator in Colombia.

The most recent displacement was on October 14, when over 234 families, nearly 1,000 people, fled rural areas within the Olaya Herrera municipality, taking shelter in a school building 30 minutes away from the municipal centre, where there is no water and only a little food that the municipality managed to provide in the first three days.

“This situation is recurrent and has completely overwhelmed the authorities’ response capacity at all levels,” explained Ximena Di Lollo, head of activities in Nariño. “As a result, we find that we are quite alone when it comes to providing care to this population in the first moments.”

The people affected have had to leave behind their homes and their livelihoods in the countryside. On many occasions, they have experienced tragic situations, bearing witness to the death of members in their community. In addition, when arriving at the temporary shelters, they are forced to endure overcrowded conditions where sanitation provision is scant and sometimes lacking food and clean drinking water.

“The needs of these people, particularly during the first days following their displacement, are massive: food, shelter, water and sanitation, let alone the need for mental health support identified in the course of our interventions,” added Dr. Di Lollo.

Médecins Sans Frontières has been working in Colombia since 1985, offering medical and psychological care as well as guidance and support to thousands of people affected by the conflict. The organisation also responds, on an ad hoc basis, to epidemics or natural disasters. Currently, about 370 people are working in the projects that MSF is implementing in 13 Colombian departments.