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Food insecurity: the struggle for those displaced in the municipality of Puerto Asís, Province of Putumayo

The lack of job opportunities, housing, education, and appropriate food according to the nutritional needs, from availability to food absorption and the lack of drinking water, among other inequality issues are translated in food and nutritional insecurity (INSAN, for its Spanish acronym) in these households.

Read more:  Food security and food sovereignty, what are they and why are they important? (in Spanish.)

According to the Colombian Unique Victim Registry (RUV, for its Spanish acronym), Puerto Asís, in the south of the Province of Putumayo is one of the 13 municipalities that receive more victims and where more displaced people come from. The armed conflict and especially the territorial disputes from illegal groups have greatly contributed to victims of forced displacement to leave the places where they live.

Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal), nutritionists, dietitian and an M.Sc. in Food and Nutritional Security, William Eduardo Escobar Rodríguez carried out a research project that discovered that up to 97% of the families victim of forced displacement have INSAN. Also, in households with underaged children, the incidence is 100%. “When the project took place there were 38,561 displaced people and the number keeps increasing,” said the researcher.

“One of the most important discoveries of this research project is that the food eaten by the inhabitants of Puerto Asís are low in important nutrients for prevention of anemia and other health issues, as they lack micronutrients, and the lack of drinking water interferes with food absorption, which is reflected in the morbidity and mortality rates of the population,” said Escobar.

“The water of the municipality of Puerto Asís is not drinkable. Households in displacement obtain water through water wells (66 %) that do not have the optimal consumption conditions and must be boiled, filtered or treated with sodium hypochlorite”.

One of the references to carry out this research project were the results of the 2015 Colombian National Nutritional Situation Survey (ENSIN, for its Spanish acronym), in which they compared the results of the rates of Nutritional and Food Security (SAN, for its acronym in Spanish) and INSAN of Colombian households with those of the displaced people.

Read more: Is food availability in Colombia more important than quality? (in Spanish.)

The INSAN category is divided into three categories: low, mild, and severe. In the first category, the percentage of Colombian households doubled (31.9%) that of Puerto Asís (13%), while in the other two categories Puerto Asís tripled or quadrupled (48% and 36%) the results of the national with 13.8 and 8.5 % respectively.

One of the goals of the research project was to provide a voice to this population and analyze the situation in the rural and urban areas of Puerto Asís concerning the right to nutritional and food security and see if implementing the Nutritional and Food Security Territorial Plan between 2011- and 2019 was helping to solve this issue.

This is one of the SAN intersectoral plans that the provinces have along with the implementation, that in public policy is called top-down: “Within the object population the displaced population is appointed, although the owners of the rights are unaware of them, it was not provided to them and much less considered in the formulation of policies and although this is at the province level, Puerto Asís still does not have a municipal plan,” said Escobar.

However, the town does have a food security subprogram from a promotion and prevention reductionist standpoint, but they also have SAN tables without citizen participation.

“In the eagerness to survive, the families opt for strategies for not dying of starvation, therefore almost all the displaced families of the municipality of Puerto Asís that endure low, moderate or severe food insecurity carry out at least one strategy”

The research project

To become cognizant of the real situation, researchers analyzed the implementation through a management approach method proposed by Sabatier and Mazmanian (1979) using detailed interviews and building stories in the municipality. Quantitative data was obtained using a comprehensive scale to measure the SAN, whose source is 2,763 households declared in displaced situation–according to RUV– between 2010 and 2018 to see how the population was with respect to their SAN rights regarding to the plan provided by the respective Province; from this, the sample was 113 households.

“Through passive participant observation and snowball sampling, they chose 6 head of households in displacement condition and two women leaders for a detailed interview,” said Escobar, who also held interviews with Putumayo Province and Puerto Asís municipal head officers.

The information obtained showed a “disarticulation with the municipal programs for the displaced population because the goals of public policy are ambiguous and do not allow for proper implementation,” added Escobar.

Food insecurity of families in displacement situation in Puerto Asís is present in all households with underaged children, mainly in a moderate (51 %) and severe manner (35%), i.e. families with women head of households (7 out of 10)”

To compare the data obtained with reality, Escobar used the Latin American and Caribbean Food Security Scale (ELCSA, for its Spanish acronym, the coping strategies used by ENSIN 2015, “The Coping Strategies Index (CSI) 2008,” such as self-consumption, as well as the socio-economic information of families, instruments that national studies have been using since 2005. Inclusively in 2015, UNal partook in designing the scale that was adapted to compare data.

Furthermore, they discovered that “there are no specific funds to accessing food for the displaced population, but it is reduced to assistance, as public officers are not cognizant of the Nutritional and Food Security Territorial Plan and there is no supervision and monitoring is rarely performed from the SAN municipal table,” said Escobar.

“The Nutritional and Food Security Territorial Plan was established to answer to a national commitment of Conpes 113 of 2008, therefore, “a realist route for implementation in the municipality is inexistent.

The INSAN impact

INSAN is accompanied by a food culture adapted to the socio-economic conditions. For instance, when preparing food people need to use cheaper ingredients as a strategy to face the situation.

In summary, the research project opens the door for the government to reassess how decisions are being taken to formulate public policies, taking into account the input from the victims of forced displacement.

Furthermore, the researcher added: “the government has a historic debt with the region as it (the region) has undergone the exploitation of its natural resources such as rubber and most recently oil and the result has been the pollution of its water sources, which is a very bleak scenario for the region.”

“Despite Puerto Asís being prioritized for the post-conflict –representing 6% of the total coca hectares cropped in Colombia–, not complying with point 4 of the peace agreement for substituting coca crops does not allow transitioning toward  complete restitution and social issues could become graver as the land could not be used to promote other types of crops to help fulfill the INSAN,” concluded Escobar.

The challenges a large, especially in the towns where the armed conflict was severe; the lack of political will to implement what was agreed in Havana, the gap between urbanity and rurality, and not complying with some of the points risks not only the food and nutritional security bit all the process toward building peace in a municipality impacted by the former armed conflict.

Consejo Editorial