Tuesday, October 19, 2021

How Colombia’s peace deal has affected poverty and education

Written by By Dr. Joseph Behan , CNN “What happens when a person who is well is troubled?” asks Pablo Neruda. “It will be chaos in the future, the people will rebel.” The social upheaval Neruda anticipates does seem to be manifesting, with large-scale demonstrations around the world and new destabilizing issues coming to the fore from Brexit to the chaos in Venezuela. While some think we may be entering a new era of

peace and enlightenment, others look toward an era of disarray. “The first decade after the peace agreement has been marked by social, economic and cultural decay; what we’ve seen in the past five years is that the agreement is losing its efficacy,” said Dr. Gabriel Railly, a Swiss expert in international development. The threats to post-conflict societies Estimates indicate that up to a fifth of Colombia’s

population has been displaced or is still displaced, with 20 million living in houses previously occupied by 7 million. Many are facing severe food shortages. “Historically, humanitarian crises have been defined as any crises that have restricted movement or access to health care and essential goods and services, including education,” said Dr. Alfonso Esquivel, a public health expert based in Colombia. “Today, the

situation is exacerbated by immense levels of violence and deterioration in economic and social conditions in all regions of the country.” Conflict has further affected the education system, where levels have fallen on a per capita basis by 23%, according to the Data Center of Colombia. Despite recent improvements, only 26% of women between 15 and 19 years of age are participating in education, compared to 46% in

1997. The high rate of under-fives who do not attend school is partly down to instability. “Colombia’s schools are extremely over-crowded, so we tend to move children around and put them in classes with groups of classmates,” said Elyse Chadwick, a public health researcher in Ecuador. The peace deal does not address the specific needs of those displaced and child soldiers. These issues will require a whole-of-society

approach to address. Colombia finds a modus vivendi on maternal health However, while rates of maternal mortality have improved in recent years, their level of prevention varies. “The rate of maternal mortality in Colombia is one of the highest in the world,” said Dr. Eleanor Schumacher of the World Health Organization. “Implementation of the [peace deal] in terms of family planning has not been substantial.” There

is also a high concentration of mining in Colombia, causing large-scale mine explosions, which, with the prevalence of landmines in the country, have claimed the lives of over 20,000 civilians. This has raised concerns regarding the wellbeing of miners. “They suffer extreme levels of poverty and stigma that they are unable to alleviate,” said Sergio Pita Ruiz of Colombia’s Environmental Penal Actions Against

Landmines. According to Railly, since the peace deal, it has become easier for paramilitary groups to act as security agents, outside of judicial restraints. They are able to continue operating with impunity — meaning that illegal mines remain active. With violent crime rates continuing to increase, UN experts estimate that within a year there could be as many as one million new victims. “If a lot of criminal gangs

follow armed groups, and have to carry weapons in the streets of the city or town, then there will be a new wave of violence,” said Chadwick. Foreign investment in Colombia will create many new opportunities, says Railly, but they will come at the cost of increased levels of corruption. Some are optimistic that the opportunity for foreign investment will bring dynamism to areas that have been neglected. “Fifty years

of war created the ability for such destruction and displacement, and economic diversification provides the means for a country to grow out of this,” said Railly. “In all of these cases, macroeconomic stability has brought stability, and renewed investment in critical sectors such as education will help to address some of the challenges that Colombian society faces.” If these macroeconomic indicators show progress,

and progress is a substantial improvement in the education sector, many reasons to be optimistic may become apparent, said Railly. “It will be clear that five years after the peace deal has produced tangible results in these critical areas — education, health and civic engagement, if only because the conditions exist for these indicators to improve.”

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