BOGOTA — From 2015 to 2016, the extreme poverty rate in Colombia increased from 7.9 percent to 8.5 percent. While a historic peace agreement between the government and Colombia’s largest rebel group was signed in November 2016, the main causes of poverty in Colombia unravel from the conflict that took place beforehand.
The country had one of the longest armed, internal conflicts in the world, spanning more than 50 years. As a result of the civil war, more than 220,000 people were killed, 80 percent of whom were civilians. Thousands disappeared and more than 7.5 million Colombians were displaced.
The internal displacement is one of the main causes of poverty in Colombia. Most displaced Colombians come from rural areas where armed conflict is common. In addition to the political conflict, the drug industry in Colombia has also resulted in the displacement of thousands of citizens. The expansion of coca cultivation has overthrown other agricultural efforts, removing farmers from their land.
With 80 percent of rural displaced citizens migrating to large cities within the country, it comes as no surprise that the rise in the Colombian poverty level is concentrated in urban areas. Many of the displaced do not obtain legal identification cards that are necessary to acquire public services such as health benefits or free education.
The issues faced through displacement raise the risk of human trafficking in large urban cities like Bogota. More than 308,000 people are enslaved in Columbiam which is the second-highest amount in Latin America next to Mexico. While the ceasefire will slow the rate of displacement in the country, it will likely increase the risk of trafficking as the cases in Bosnia and Guatemala have shown post-conflict.
With the peace agreement, Colombia is provided the opportunity to address the issues that created the conflict in the first place: poverty and inequality. The country’s land ownership and income inequality are among the highest in the world. With these inequalities, a proportion of the nation’s population lacks access to official institutions, economic or technological resources and quality education. These variables compound the issues of poverty in the country and create a greater divide between the haves and the have-nots.
Colombia is a nation that has been plagued by civil war yet has the potential to be a strong economy. This millennium, GDP per capita in Colombia tripled, poverty was cut in half and GDP growth averaged 4.26 percent annually.
The peace deal that is now being monitored is expected the enhance the economy by cutting violent crime in half and restoring 800,000 hectares of farmable land to boost the agricultural sector. With the ceasefire, rural populations will have increased access to resources that will boost employment and lower poverty rates. However, for peace to be a genuine outcome of the current events, the underlying causes of poverty in Colombia must be acknowledged and addressed.
– Tess Hinteregger