NEW YORK (August 13, 2012) — Heavy rains and flooding have aggravated existing vulnerabilities caused by armed conflict in the department of Putumayo, southwestern Colombia, resulting in a humanitarian crisis affecting some 74,000 people, of whom 29,600 are children. UNICEF requests $2.45 million for programs in the areas of protection, education, water, sanitation and hygiene, health and nutrition for the next six months.
Communities are now more exposed to risks associated with landmine and unexploded ordnance since the floodwaters have moved them to new unmarked or unknown locations. There are a reported 20,000 landmines in affected areas, and according to official sources, the landmine and UXO civilian casualty rates in Putumayo have increased 200% between January and June 2012, compared to 2011.
Forty-two schools in the area are reported to be affected by the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnances, and many children are not attending classes due to the fear of landmines. The presence of these devices is causing limited mobility among communities, impacting socioeconomic activity and resulting in food shortages and limited humanitarian access.
In the urban area of Puerto Asis, education has been interrupted for 1,600 students, and nine educational centers and ten boarding schools have been damaged, preventing 1,969 students from attending classes. Most of the rural school infrastructure has been damaged by the flooding or is being used as shelter for displaced families. It is critical to provide children with adequate educational materials and support their psychosocial health in order for them to regain a sense of normalcy.
“The constant sense of insecurity and anxiety is affecting children as they feel the threat of losing their parents,” said UNICEF Colombia Deputy Representative Viviana Limpias.
Other key concerns relate to the risk of disease outbreaks due to contaminated water sources and poor sanitation. There is an urgent need to provide safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene messages. The provision of public health services in the affected areas is practically non-existent or has been severely affected by the emergency and the armed conflict. Even before the floods, water infrastructure in the rural areas was lacking. Virtually no riverside community has safe drinking water, and the floods have worsened already dire conditions in rural communities.
Children in areas affected by illegal armed groups are also exposed to recruitment, abuse and sexual exploitation. On occasion schools have been occupied by these groups.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when zero children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.
For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, firstname.lastname@example.org