In Colombia, moving from tragedy to development

 An internally displaced person in Colombia. Photo: UNDP Colombia
An internally displaced person in Colombia Don Manuel and his family received resettlement help from UNDP after being forced to leave their home in northwestern Colombia. Photo: UNDP Colombia

By Amparo Díaz, laureate of UNDP's annual storytelling contest

The 21st century was just beginning when Salomón Manuel Petro – a troubadour and farmer – and his family were forced to leave their home in northwestern Colombia. They took only what they could carry with them, along with their memories, shattered dreams and the popular songs stuck in Petro’s throat. That was when he and his family became internally displaced persons, or IDPs.


  • Colombia has had nearly 3.9 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) since 1997.
  • Thanks to a joint initiative of UNDP and UNHCR, 22,000 IDPs have received access to housing, basic services and economic development programmes.
  • The initiative also provides funding to improve quality of life in the communities where IDPs are resettling, including by building schools, community centers and health care systems.

“I had to leave, I was lucky that I received only blows, others were killed,” Don Manuel says. “And my family was unharmed. Others did not live to tell the story.”

Don Manuel’s case is not unique. Internal displacement as a result of ongoing armed conflict continues to occur in Colombia. Almost 3.9 million IDPs have been recorded since 1997. The search to resolve the situation of this huge population has become a priority for the Government and there are many needs for the displaced, including humanitarian aid, protection and opportunities for working towards more permanent and sustainable livelihoods.

Realistically speaking, many of Colombia’s IDPs cannot hope to return to their homes in the near future. In 2012, UNDP partnered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Government of Colombia to improve the quality of life for the country’s IDPs, specifically focusing on moving beyond immediate humanitarian assistance to helping them to build a long-term future for themselves and their families. The programme receives financial support from Sweden, the United States and Colombia’s Ministry of Labour, in addition to support from local governments.

Funds are used to provide land, housing, basic services and local economic development programmes that help enrich the host communities along with their new neighbours. The programme also works to strengthen and support the government institutions tasked with protecting the rights of victims of armed conflict.

With the programme’s support, Don Manuel and his family finally ended up in the city of La Argentina, where he and other IDPs arrived with the promise of receiving a plot of land to support their relocation.

“Paradise,” is how Don Manuel describes his life today. “I feel more at peace. Here there is no war, like there was back home, where people could be killed for no reason and thrown in the river.”

The initiative is already showing substantial results, currently benefiting 22,000 people in five communities. Two community centres were built, boys and girls – IDPs or not – are benefitting from better schools  and IDP settlements once deemed illegal by the Government have seen measurably improved primary health care systems.

In 2013 the programme will reach seven additional communities, bringing much-needed opportunity to some 50,000 Colombians displaced by violence.

“The most important thing is to be persistent, to be willing to act, to recover what was lost during the time of violence, that is why we resisted so much hardship,” Don Manuel explains.

Amparo Diaz is a Communications Specialist in UNDP Colombia. The UNDP team in the Oriente Antioquenho region contributed to the story.

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