Colombian president Gustavo Petro has announced that he will declare a social and economic emergency for the department of La Guajira in the north of the country. The Colombian president confirmed this from Paris, where he has participated in the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact.
La Guajira and its special vulnerability
La Guajira is the driest department in the country, largely desert. This is due to the area experiencing high pressures for most of the year, which are associated with low rainfall. Additionally, the high circulation of winds also hampers precipitation. Cases of lack of clean water and child malnutrition have been recurrent in this historically disadvantaged region of the country.
Starting next Monday, Petro will be stationed in the region along with all his ministers to govern the country from there for a week. The president has emphasized the importance of this gesture as a demonstration of his government’s commitment to one of the regions with the greatest historical deficits in investment. And he has done so in a particularly critical year, 2023, due to the El Niño phenomenon, which can exacerbate the water and food crisis that periodically affects the peninsula shared by Colombia and Venezuela. In the words of the Colombian leader, the main objective of his government’s action in the area will be to ensure access to water. “Children are dying due to lack of access to clean water,” stated the president.
85 children died in 2022
The past year ended with a devastating figure: 85 children died from malnutrition and thirst, according to official sources from the National Institute of Health, an organization that also has its own strategies for intervention in the region. The victims belong to the Wayuu ethnic group, which is the majority in the department. This figure adds to other equally high numbers in previous years, demonstrating year after year that fatalities are increasing, especially among children under 5 years old.
What does the social and economic emergency mean?
The formal declaration of the emergency will allow the government to expedite aid, as it enables the president to issue decrees with the force of law. Although these decrees must be exclusively related to the reasons for declaring the emergency and will be reviewed by the Constitutional Court, the social and economic emergency is a tool that will reduce bureaucracy and accelerate assistance.
All Colombian presidents since the signing of the 1991 Constitution have declared some form of emergency. Some have been annulled by the Court because they were deemed unnecessary to address the announced needs. The most recent and significant declaration was made during the Covid-19 pandemic under the government of Iván Duque.