The international relief and development agency of America's two largest Lutheran denominations has expressed concern over the increased violence against its partners in northern Colombia.
In the province of Córdoba, murder rates over the last two years have reached historic highs, with more than 500 assassinations last year. Under threat, meanwhile, are partners of Lutheran World Relief representing rural farming communities, internally displaced populations and Evangelical churches.
"Violence in Córdoba and the impunity perpetrators enjoy is a threat not only to our partners, but to development as a whole," noted Michael Watt, LWR regional director for Latin America programs.
"LWR has accompanied displaced communities in Colombia since 1996, but growing violence has required the organization to increase our focus on protection and emergency measures, while limiting our ability to support development and rehabilitation programming, such as improving rural families' livelihoods and facilitating a return home for IDPs," he added.
According to Annalise Romoser, acting director for public policy and advocacy at LWR, violence in Córdoba has led to an increase in the number of internally displaced Colombians in the province in recent years, contributing to the nation's already significant internally displaced population of four million.
LWR partners in Córdoba affected by violence, meanwhile, have received inadequate attention from the Colombian government, including the state agency charged with serving internally displaced people (IDPs), Acción Social.
"Violence in Córdoba - a region already hard hit by poverty - represents a serious humanitarian crisis," commented Romoser.
Due to precarious security situations and sheer fear, displaced communities have been unable to return home. In cities and towns, they reportedly suffer from unemployment, lack of food and clean water, and unsanitary living conditions.
In acting on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, LWR said it will continue to support partners in Córdoba and advocate on their behalf before the U.S. Congress and Colombian government.
LWR is calling on the U.S. government to work with Colombian officials to investigate all acts of violence in Córdoba and develop decisive plans to protect communities in the region. The Lutheran body is also pressing authorities to dismantle re-organized paramilitary groups operating in the region.
"Protection, an end to impunity and political will to address the growing number of illegal armed groups in Córdoba is essential for rural development to take hold and families to break free from poverty in the region," Watt stated.