The Wayuu peoples of the northern Colombia region, La Guajira, and the Zulia State of Venezuela, have received national media attention over the increasingly devastating effects of food insecurity in recent years. La Guajira represents 1.76% of Colombia’s surface and is home to 20% of Colombia’s Indigenous population, the Wayuu, with their population at approximately 400,000. Traditionally shepherds and fishermen, the Wayuu live in diverse ecosystems creating variability in their productive activities and food systems. This community is experiencing a water crisis due to the region’s partial desert landscape, droughts caused by the natural phenomenon of El Nino - the effects of which are exacerbated by climate change - and mining activities and dam development which have contaminated and dried the community’s main water sources. Along with border closures between Colombia and Venezuela, these factors have also contributed to extreme food insecurity amongst the Wayuu. These crises, particularly that of access to food, has resulted in a devastating number of deaths amongst Wayuu children. According to the National Institute of Health, the Wayuu lost 110 children to hunger-related deaths between 2017 and 2019.
La Guajira has the highest income inequality in the country and the majority of its population has difficulty accessing essential food items. Poverty has only exacerbated the impact of the food and water crises on the people of the region, and state corruption has limited efficient social programs to combat the region’s increasing food insecurity. While the Colombian state has been working on food security policies since 2008, little has been put into action. UNICEF and FUCAI, on the other hand, have done work in the way of improving the child morbidity and mortality amongst the Wayuu people. While there has been some national and international effort to improve the food crisis of the Wayuu, there is much more required to eliminate hunger both in the region and country.
While it is the Indigenous population in Colombia, specifically the Wayuu of La Guajira, who are disproportionately affected by the consequences of the food and water crises, it is important to also understand the broader Colombian food situation. During the early 1980s, Colombia’s food sector was self-sufficient and supplied all the national demand for agricultural goods. Throughout the 1990s and onwards, Colombia’s food security has decreased. The country has become increasingly dependent on food imports, mainly from the United States and Canada, as a result of economic, environmental, agricultural, and social factors. Colombia has been affected by the shrinking value of the national peso, a loss in biodiversity, a non-industrialized, peasant-based agricultural sector, and significant poverty and unemployment.
Additionally, migration to urban cities has increased since the end of the twentieth century, at which point more than 70% of Colombians already lived in urban centres. Indigenous populations are included in these urbanization trends as a result of historical violence over land domination, as well as conflict over land use resulting from privileged economic activities such as mining and land foreignization. While food insecurity is something clearly affecting Colombia as a whole, Indigenous communities remain the most vulnerable populations. As such, with the help of collaborators from the region, the Four Stories project hopes to bring awareness to the situation in Colombia, specifically the pressing food security-related issues of the Wayuu peoples.
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