(Photo: Defensoria Del Pueblo)

Nearly 40,000 indigenous people are being affected by a “famine” in Colombia’s arid northern state of La Guajira, an issue exacerbated by the closure of the nearby Venezuelan border, according to Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office.

The Ombudsman made an “urgent appeal” to national and regional authorities to solve the issue affecting the indigenous Wayuu community living in 13 districts of the Alta Guajira — the northernmost region of the state – which sources much of its basic food items from the Venezuelan border

“There is a big dependence by the local communities, for geographic reasons, on the food and goods from Venezuela, so what we’re asking the authorities to take steps and implement mechanisms and public policies to provide the communities with food from Colombia,” a spokesperson for the Ombudsman’s Office told Colombia Reports.

He added that although there are obvious geographic and access difficulties, the government must guarantee the proper supply of food to the region’s population.

Concerns for the remote communities and its inhabitants has been growing since the Venezuelan government decided to restrict the movement of food to Colombia, which has spawned a large black market economy in the area.

“There is an indication that the supplies that were coming in from Venezuela to the communities has diminished greatly and in some cases not coming in at all,” the spokesperson said.

The mainly Indigenous Wayuu communities located in the remote desert areas of the northern Guajira, some of which can be found on the Venezuelan border, lack developed roads and transport systems that heavily impact the availability of basic goods and services.

The appeal to the government was made after officials visited the area this week and reported a serious lack of basic food items in the municipality of Uribia –- known as the indigenous capital of Colombia.

The Ombudsman has also asked the local and departmental governments take steps to overcome the situation, highlighting that 70% of those affected are women and children.

At the end of January a report was made to the Ombudsmans office by an Wayuu leader where he stated that three children had died in a small community due to malnutrition, and added that “there are a number of minors who die from malnutrition (in the communities), but are not reported to the authorities.”

Although the relations between Venezuela and Colombia have been strained for the past 10 years, they have marginally improved since Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos agreed to set up high-level groups to discuss energy, trade and security.

MORE: Santos meets with Venezuelan counterpart


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