Major humanitarian crisis in Antioquia as thousands forced to leave homes

Thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes in rural zones in northern Antioquia following fighting between paramilitaries and other armed groups. The mass forced displacement is the latest incident in an escalating humanitarian crisis around the Ituango zone that in the last two years has claimed the lives of several social activists, community leaders and former combatants in the peace process. Recently, the deteriorating conditions have been exacerbated by heavy rains which have caused floods and landslides, impeding the movement of people and supplies to affected communities.

Since last week, thousands of displacement victims have arrived in the urban centre of Ituango in urgent need of shelter, food, water and medical attention. On Sunday 25 July, authorities said that 967 families, totalling 2,311 people, had been impacted, a figure which had grown to at least 3,700 within two days. There have been more than 60 landslides that have destroyed homes and roads, affecting at least 250 families according to local authorities. Public transport has been suspended due to the lack of petrol, with major food shortages also likely without emergency relief.

Ituango is located in a major drugs-producing and trafficking area where armed groups compete for territorial control. Fighting between rival groups has brought them into direct confrontation with local communities. Alongside the lucrative illegal economies, the region suffers from historic state abandonment, where the population has little-to-no access to essential services or basic infrastructure. This has made it extremely difficult for communities to address their core needs.

Last year, FARC former combatants left a reincorporation zone in Ituango due to the threats they faced from armed groups. At that point, 12 former FARC members based at the zone had been murdered, while paramilitaries also killed the 15-year-old son of a former combatant there. There have been previous mass displacements this year, such as in February this year when 120 families had to leave their homes. This year alone, there have been several murders of social activists and massacres committed in north Antioquia, where Ituango is located, making it one of the most violent regions of the country.