The reality that some 5 million Colombians suffer from chronic malnutrition, and equally alarming, close to 16 million go hungry every day is “critical” affirms the country’s Food Banks, known by its acronym ÁBACO. According to the most recent figures released by the country’s department of statistics, in Colombia, 42.5% of the population – equivalent to 21 million people – live below the poverty line with an average monthly income of COP$331,000 pesos (US$84), and of these 21 million people, 7.4 million (15%) live in extreme poverty with an average monthly income of $145,000 pesos (US$36).
Accompanying these very disturbing statistics by DANE, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, close to 90% of Colombian families consumed three meals a day. By December 2021, this figure dropped to 69%, represented in numerical terms to 14.4 million people eating just two meals a day. During this same time period, and 20 months since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the country, 1.5 million Colombians can afford one meal a day, and 154,800 cannot even afford that one meal a day.
“This is not the time to look for culprits and lament the situation of food insecurity in Colombia,” believes Juan Carlos Buitrago, executive director of ÁBACO. “It is important to put the issue on the table, understand its dimension and come together to work on integral solutions,” he added. With an additional 1.2 million Colombians joining the growing ranks of the poor during the first months of the pandemic, monetary poverty remains the leading cause of food insecurity.
The issue of food insecurity raised the ire of the Colombian Government after the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and World Food Programme (WFP), included Colombia among 20 “hunger hotspots.” Colombia was the only South American nation facing food insecurity given conflict zones, internal displacement, political instability and some 1.1 million Venezuelan migrants residing in the country. Among other countries ranked by FAO are Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Madagascar and war-torn Yemen.
Colombia’s Minister of Foreign Relations and vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez, joined by Minister of Agriculture Rodolfo Zea, were swift to reject the Hunger Hotspots report, stating during a joint press conference that it was “outright curious” that the multi-lateral agency did not include other countries from the region in a 46-page document that “lacks factual support, methodological definition and clarity in its sources.”
The FAO’s representative to Colombia, Alan Bojanic, was forced to retract, stating that “it is unfair not to recognize the Government’s efforts in food security, as well as resources allocated to structural programs. Unfortunately, the report does not reflect these advances,” said Bojanic.
The representative placed part of the blame on the misinterpretation of a map “that didn’t achieve the objective” to raise resources for Venezuelan migrants, especially vulnerable to food shortages and insecurity.
During a week in which FAO took Colombia of its controversial report, the National Survey of Nutrition also released its own study in which it claims that 11% of children in the country under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, an irreversible and life-threatening condition that prevents the adequate growth and development of some 500,000 Colombian youngsters.