In Nariño Department, on the southwestern tip of Colombia, one of the most unknown and stubborn effects of a long-lasting conflict has jeopardized the health of the population. Since 2009 the Caunapí, Rosario and Mira rivers have been contaminated due to armed actions against the oil infrastructure and the Trans-Andean Pipeline. This has had a serious impact on health and agriculture for hundreds of families that rely on these rivers for their water supply.
Action Against Hunger’s teams in the field are working to provide emergency assistance and reduce the risks associated with contaminated water in Tumaco before conditions worsen.
27 July 2015 – Attacks on the Trans-Andean Oil Pipeline last month had a detrimental impact on the Caunapí River Community Council Union, Rosario River Community Council of the Union and the village of Pueblo Nuevo. Several communities responded by creating their own wells which lack the minimal level of quality for safe consumption. As a result, there is a high probability of an outbreak of diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections, especially among children under the age of 5, as well as skin diseases and infections around the genital areas.
“These communities experienced flooding in May, before the oil pollution occurred. However, these communities were unable to receive aid due to the intensification of fighting in the area. After the oil spill, people lost their sources of water, forcing them to consume contaminated water”, said Nestor Arteaga, Water and Sanitation Coordinator for Action Against Hunger in Colombia. “The populations with fewer resources are the most vulnerable and the most affected. Especially African-Colombian communities and women whose workload and needs have been multiplied. “
FOOD SECURITY AT RISK
80% of families who depend on the farming of fish and gathering of shellfish and shrimp are directly affected by the contaminated water. “We found that a large number of children show signs of respiratory infections, fungus, allergies, skin rashes, headaches and diarrhea. Currently they do not receive any assistance”, says Juliana Ruiz, Programme Manager for Action Against Hunger in Colombia. “The stain of oil persists, despite the clean-up that has taken place. Meanwhile, adults and children continue to drink and wash in rivers, a fact that highlights the cultural union that this community have with their rivers.”
The Tumaco and Canaupí communities have also continuously been affected by armed conflict. Armed groups control the rivers, which are also the only means of communication and transportation, access to the area is extremely difficult. As a result, the population is forced to move from one village to another.
Continuing with the trends in 2015, it is expected that such events will continue to occur. This means that it will take a long time to recover water sources that communities can use safely. “The total number of people affected may be higher. It is not possible to place containment booms and begin the clean up due to the inability to access the river for safety reasons. Moreover, with the heavy rains, the oil continues to flow downstream affecting other communities”, adds Juliana Ruiz.
ACTION AGAINST HUNGER’S RESPONSE
Our priority is to improve access to a source of safe water and to adequate sanitary conditions through the distribution of filters, tanks, water containers, mosquito nets, soap and hygiene kits, and through training of the population to improve hygiene practices. “Action Against Hunger works in coordination with the local authorities and United Nations agencies, allowing us to have a greater and more effective presence in the region”, adds Jose Luis Barreiro, director of Action Hunger in Colombia. “As a humanitarian organization we operate under the principles of neutrality and independence, we hope that the steps that are being taken to find a solution to the conflict serve to avoid these situations that add more suffering to the civilian population.”
“After this first emergency phase we are already working on the design of actions aimed to improve the quality of water from alternative sources, such as systems for collecting rainwater, so that people can eat and wash themselves with safe water “.
Photo: © ACF Susana Vera 2009