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The Effects of the Venezuelan Humanitarian Crisis in Colombia
Project HOPE employee and registered nurse Teresa Narvaez recently visited Colombia to assess the consequences of the increasing influx of Venezuelans.
By: Teresa Narvaez
Posted: September 13, 2018
Desperate hungry children and families, exhausted by hours of walking and emotionally depleted by the pain of leaving loved ones behind – huddle in long lines at the border of Venezuela and Colombia. These are the victims of what has become the Western hemisphere’s biggest humanitarian crisis – as hundreds of thousands of people spill out of Venezuela into Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, fleeing fast worsening economic and political conditions.
Many have no choice except to make a painful, hazardous journey. Their lives have been made impossible at home by extreme hyperinflation and severe shortages of food, medicine and health care.
I recently visited border cities in Colombia and Ecuador to assess the needs of both the displaced population of Venezuelans and their host communities as the Project HOPE team prepares to respond to this crisis. I was met by families grasping for hope and crying children who endured long journeys on foot, some without eating, while battling extreme weather conditions.
In one city alone – the Municipality of Villa del Rosario in Colombia – we witnessed the delivery of food to thousands of displaced people. The little money they had when they left Venezuela had all been quickly spent as thousands struggle to survive.
Along the border town of Rumichaca, between Venezuela and Ecuador, where the temperature ranges between 4 to 11 degrees Celsius, sometimes dropping to zero, people were hungry and cold. Most Venezuelans who have fled aren’t sufficiently clothed and many are looking for someone to give them a glass of water, a piece of bread, or a hot meal.
The health crisis is badly straining local services in host countries – and the situation will likely get worse as the exodus of Venezuelans is expected to hit three million people by next year.
The health crisis is especially distressing. Support for health services are desperately needed since the Colombian health system requires health insurance to care for the ill. Colombia’s health system is reeling from the arrival of Venezuelans who cross the border looking for medical treatment that is not available at home.
Although Colombia is willing to offer emergency care, the services that are being offered to this large group of displaced people generates a huge expense to public hospitals and an imbalance in already overburdened budgets.
Additionally, the increase of infectious diseases such as measles, diphtheria, chickenpox and hepatitis is putting not only the Venezuelan population at risk, but host populations as well.
A lack of shelter causes families who have fled to bed down for the night in public with no security, control or protection. Young women are forced to resort to offering sexual services for a couple of dollars just to buy food for themselves and their children. Because of this, there has been an increase in cases of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Environmental sanitation in these border areas is also insufficient, and there are not enough clean toilets available. People are using the streets, the walls, the parks – really anywhere – as they have no other options.
The families and their host communities desperately need our help. Health assistance is urgently needed: medicines and vaccines, medical supplies and equipment, the training of health workers and the coordination of medical brigades. And time is running out. The situation is dire and could become worse as more and more people flee their homes in search of help.