BOGOTA (Reuters) – Coronavirus is making it more difficult for indigenous Wayuu people in Colombia to survive and putting children at risk of malnutrition, advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.
Even before coronavirus, food insecurity and malnutrition plagued Wayuu communities, exacerbated by mismanagement and corruption, migration from neighboring Venezuela and climate change, HRW said.
But limited state support afforded the Wayuu amid the pandemic creates a particularly dangerous situation, HRW’s Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco said in a virtual media conference.
“This crisis is fundamentally due to state abandonment which has led to very limited access to drinking water, food, and basic health services,” Vivanco said.
A government spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Travel restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19 have severely limited the Wayuu’s access to food, HRW said in the report with the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health.
The majority of the 270,000 Wayuu live in Colombia’s impoverished and arid La Guajira province in the north of the country.
Colombia has reported more than 420,500 cases of coronavirus and just under 14,000 deaths. La Guajira has reported over 3,000 cases, with some 100 Wayuu infected.
President Ivan Duque declared an ongoing national lockdown in late March that is due to lift at the end of August.
La Guajira has 7% of Colombia’s population but accounts for a fifth of malnutrition deaths in children under 5. Of those, more than 75% are from indigenous communities, HRW added, citing government data.
Previous government initiatives to address malnutrition have been beset by shortcomings, the report found. School meals have at times been scant or spoiled and treatment for malnutrition hard to access.
(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)