Forgotten crises: the long shadow of the conflict in Colombia

Frontino, Colombia: vegetable patches are planted in order to tackle hunger in the long term., © Johanniter

05.02.2021 - Article

In Colombia, the impact of the conflict between government and rebel groups is still felt today. The aid organisation Johanniter supports people with medical care, starter kits for gardening and therapy dogs. Germany supports the Johanniter with one million euro.

The long road to peace

In 2016, a peace treaty was signed between the government and FARC rebels in Colombia, promising the country peace and reconciliation at long last after decades of violence. However, the road from the signing of the treaty to the implementation of the agreements is long and difficult. Social inequality, violent excesses by paramilitaries and drug gangs against the civilian population and the internal displacement to which this leads continue to be the order of the day in many rural regions of Colombia. Many people have insufficient income, little to eat, scant educational opportunities and few job prospects. In addition, more than a million people from Venezuela have sought refuge in the neighbouring country since the outbreak of the crisis there.

Starter kits for allotments: hoe, shovel and seeds

Alleviating Colombians’ most pressing needs is at the forefront of the work of the Johanniter. This includes feeding hungry people. The organisation thus distributes food packages to families in need, especially in remote regions that receive little support from the government. The packages contain tuna, powdered milk, rice, pasta, beans and biscuits.

Communities are also being trained to plant allotments with a view to addressing poverty in the long term. Participating families receive a starter kit consisting of a hoe, a shovel and seeds. Sowing, tending and harvesting together also fosters social cohesion, which has been seriously damaged as a result of prolonged periods of violent clashes and displacement owing to the conflict.

An invisible threat: concealed explosive devices

Moreover, people in large areas of Colombia live in constant fear of mines to this day. Colombians are regularly badly injured by concealed explosive devices. The Johanniter provide medical support here, supplying prostheses, wheelchairs and crutches. People who live in mined regions are taught how to deal with the risks. This was the case for Omar Castillo from Antioquia province, who took part in a training course. He had the following to say in this regard: “I learned a lot about the various risks and the different types of explosive devices. For that I am very grateful. I will pass on what I learned about mines to my community.”

Therapy dogs helping traumatised people

It is now widely acknowledged that animals have a healing effect on the human psyche. The Johanniter are therefore assisted by therapy dogs. The dogs Cooki, Conchi, Bruno, Lisa and Milla are always to hand when the Johanniter visit people who have experienced violence and are traumatised. These therapy animals help people to open up and come to terms with negative experiences.

Esthefany Cataño, a local Johanniter staff member from Anori, knows how important the project is for the people, especially in the current tense situation caused by COVID‑19: “Thanks to Germany’s support and the work of the Johanniter, we can give people a little hope for the future and address their most pressing needs. Our project can make a real difference, especially for people in regions neglected by the state.”

Political and financial support for Colombia

Humanitarian organisations like the Johanniter are making an important contribution to restoring peace in Colombia. The humanitarian work of international donors is coordinated by the local UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) in Bogotá, which has analysed needs and coordinated humanitarian assistance for many years. With its political and financial commitment, Germany is working to ensure that humanitarian organisations can continue to support the people of Colombia.


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