Poverty, Inequality and Drugs  


While the correlation between poverty, inequality and social conflict is complex, it is important to remember that the Colombian conflict has its origin, in part, in the absence of human security (security on the land, security of employment, security of access to quality health care and education). This dynamic forms part of a vicious cycle, whereby conflict extends and also deepens poverty and inequality.

The lucrative drugs trade provides huge profits for paramilitary and guerrilla groups, and is an important motor in the perpetuation of the conflict and violence. In addition, illegal groups are now gaining huge profits from providing machinery and protection for mining, as well as carrying out illegal mining themselves.

Grass-roots experience, often supported by international cooperation, shows that it is both possible and feasible to begin to redress inequality and exclusion and to alleviate poverty. Alternative development initiatives have been undertaken to help rural communities replace coca crop cultivation and guarantee sustainable livelihoods for small-scale farmers. Such efforts, if accompanied and strengthened by public policies that go beyond welfare aid, could have a real and lasting impact on levelling out persisting inequalities. 


Photo credit: Sean Sprague

Poverty and Inequality

Colombia is a middle income country where a large proportion (32%) of the population live in poverty. Colombia is also the seventh most unequal country in the world [1]. Furthermore, poverty and inequality disproportionately affects women, children, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous groups and displaced persons. 

The poverty gap is most evident between rural and urban areas: 46.8% of the rural population are poor compared to 28.4% in urban areas. The same is also true in the case of extreme poverty: in rural areas 22.8 per cent live in extreme poverty compared to 6.6% in urban areas. [2]

Despite overall poverty reduction in Colombia, the number of people suffering in extreme poverty in rural areas rose from 22.1% in 2011 to 22.8% in 2012 and the gap between rural and urban poverty rates is also growing: rural poverty was 1.4 times higher than urban poverty in 2002, rising to 1.7 times higher in 2012. The gap is even greater for extreme poverty, with extreme rural poverty being 2.7 times higher than urban poverty in 2002 and rising to 3.5 times higher by 2012. [3]


Rural poverty is of particular concern given that poverty and exclusion in rural areas has traditionally been one of the root causes of socio-political violence in the country and continues to be an important conflict accelerator. 

Colombia’s reduction in overall poverty has been achieved largely by targeted and rapid poverty reduction in Bogota and Medellin. From 2005 to 2012 poverty in Colombia’s two largest cities fell by an average of 23.3%, compared to just 7.6% for the slightly smaller cities of Barranquilla and Cali over the same period.[4] This shows that whilst more work needs to be done to reduce rural poverty, efforts also need to be put into reducing poverty at a greater rate in other Colombian cities.

It is also important to note that the way the Colombian Government collects poverty statistics changed in 2001, which in turn has led to a reduction in the number of people classified as living in poverty. For example, using the old method poverty rates for 2010 appear as 44.2%, however according to the new method this figure falls to 37.2% for the same year. [5]

The Land Issue


One area where rural inequality is most profoundly expressed is in the inequitable distribution of land. Land concentration in Colombia is biased towards large landowners at the expense of rural small-scale farmers: 0.4% of landowners own 61% of rural land. 
Concentration of land ownership has increased over recent years, fuelled by the forced displacement of rural communities: it is estimated that around 6 million hectares of land have been abandoned by people fleeing the conflict. Unequal landownership deprives rural farmers of a livelihood and so perpetuates income inequality. Additionally, by reducing the land available for small-scale farmers to produce food for subsistence, unequal landownership contributes to food insecurity, resulting in health problems including malnutrition, anaemia, calcium deficiencies, and deficiencies in calorie intake.  

Photo credit: CAFOD


Poverty and Vulnerability


Poverty involves the systematic violation of economic, social and cultural rights that affect almost every sphere of life, and which are frequently inter-dependent. Very few poor people work in the formal sector, which would allow them access to health care or pension benefits.  Thus the income poverty from which they suffer is further aggravated by insecurity and by the inadequacy of the social services to which they have access. 

In addition, poor quality and access to education disproportionately affect children from poor families, making it even harder for them to ever break the cycle of poverty.  



More Informacion:

Useful Links (documents and websites)



[1] Breaking With History: Why Colombia needs a more progressive tax system, The World Bank (2012)
[2] Pobreza monetaria, desigualdad del ingreso 2010-2012, Departamento Nacional de Planeación: Pobreza en Colombia Diagnostico y Estrategias (2012)
[3] ibid
[4] Statistics for 2005, Departamento Nacional de Planeación, Monetaria y Desigualdad del Ingreso (2007)
Statistics for 2012, Departamento Nacional de Planeación, Pobreza y Desigualdad en Colombia Diagnostico y Estrategias (2012)
[5] Comunicado de prensa: pobreza en Colombia, Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (2011)


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