Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities face higher risk to health and wellbeing in Colombia

On 21 January 2024, Ombudsman Carlos Camargo Assis urged government institutions to implement comprehensive plans so that children in Colombia do not continue to be affected by food insecurity.

According to statistics from the Instituto Nacional de Salud (INS), more than 230 children under the age of five died of malnutrition in Colombia in 2023. 57 further deaths are currently under study, meaning that the official figure may reach 290 child deaths from malnutrition in 2023. Cases of child malnutrition that did not result in death rose 14% compared to 2022, with 24,226 cases recorded. These are shameful statistics given that Colombia is an Upper-Middle-Income country.

 In 2020 the Colombian Government passed  Resolution 2350, which sets out guidelines for the management of malnutrition in children up to 5 years of age, and establishes  corresponding responsibilities for different actors within the health system. However, this once again demonstrates that whilst Colombia introduces policies, it is failing when it comes to implementation.

The Government of Gustavo Petro has also included preventing child malnutrition in the National Development Plan (NDP) 2022-2026 alongside achieving availability, access and adaptation measures to guarantee this. It is therefore essential that the Government draws up a roadmap quickly, for the full and effective implementation of Resolution 2350 combined with the measures contained in the NDP 2022-26 and ensures sufficient resources for its implementation.

The statistics reveal that those most impacted by child poverty and malnutrition are Afro-Colombian, Raizal, Palenque and Indigenous children. La Guajira, for example, is suffering from a humanitarian crisis. This region is home to the Wayúu indigenous community, and 70 of the total recorded child malnutrition deaths occurred there. This equals around 30% of all deaths. Furthermore, 2,223 Wayúu children are living with acute malnutrition.

Across the country, many face similarly dire situations with around 13% of the population living in poverty – this equates to some 6.6 million Colombians. Again, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, Palenque and Indigenous communities, like the Wayúu, are disproportionately affected: rates of poverty reach 27.3% in rural areas, and the highest rates are found in the Pacific and Caribbean regions of Colombia, the latter being where the Wayúu live.[1]

Exacerbating the situation is the expansion of the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America, Cerrejón, which is owned by the multinational giant Glencore. This has resulted in the forced relocation of some communities in La Guajira. According to the Colombian Constitutional Court, the communities dependent on the land surrounding the Cerrejón mine, like the Wayúu, have suffered serious human rights violations and health problems due to the presence of the mine. There have also been grave environmental impacts.

Not only has the mine privatised and restricted access to water by diverting rivers and streams, the water sources have also been contaminated. In doing this, Glencore’s Cerrejón mine has damaged the Wayúu population’s access to safe drinking water and also their means of food production, leading to cases of thirst and malnutrition across the community. Indigenous community leader, Leobardo Sierra, stated that thousands of Wayúu children have died as a direct result of these issues in recent years. Further, 36,832 inhabitants of La Guajira now suffer from respiratory symptoms directly attributable to the Cerrejón mining operations.

Despite Glencore’s explicit violation of the Wayúu community’s rights (including the right to water, the right to adequate food, the right to health and the right to free, prior and informed consent), the company is suing the Colombian government in an Investor-State Dispute Settlement case for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. This case concerns the Colombian Constitutional Court ruling to suspend the Cerrejón mine’s modification of the Arroyo Bruno, a stream that is spiritually sacred to the Wayúu, as well as a water and food source for the community. The Court’s decision was made in favour of the Wayúu people’s right to water, yet Glencore is suing for potential financial losses and, despite the ruling, the company has cut off the Arroyo Bruno. Glencore’s Cerrejón mine is just one example of a large multinational company threatening the livelihoods of local communities in Colombia.

To help raise awareness of and put a stop to the exploitation faced by these local communities, you can write to your MP to ask them to #signEDM136 – information on how to do this is available here.

[1] DANE Boletín Técnico, 2023 (p4),