5 September 2023 - Colombia

Developing a nexus between humanitarian assistance and development response. A social protection example from Colombia


“One day they called me to tell me that I had benefited from the financial aid provided by Save the Children, that call was like a miracle for the whole family because we were going through a difficult time… I bought groceries to share with my daughters and grandchildren.” Patricia*

In the world of international cooperation, we constantly hear from within our organizations as well as from donors and other partners with whom we interact about the need to connect humanitarian aid with development response. However, we rarely find clear examples of how to move from one-off interventions during an emergency to sustainable, scaled-up responses to improve the well-being of our target populations.

During my recent visit to the Save the Children Colombia Office, I was able to witness concrete experiences of this nexus.

Given its proximity to Venezuela, Colombia is home to more than 2.5 million people who have left their country, according to the Inter-agency Coordination Platform for migrants and refugees from Venezuela (R4V), which makes it the country with the largest Venezuelan population in the region, and one of its most important arrival points is the area of La Guajira, as it is part of the border between the two countries.

The humanitarian situation for migrant populations in La Guajira has been going on for more than 4 years, which makes it necessary to think about medium-term and sustainable response strategies. Protracted crises as the Venezuelan migration expose the urgent need to effectively connect both humanitarian and development efforts. Social Protection represents an ideal mechanism to build this nexus, one that strengthens resilience and enables a transition into recovery and development.

Understood as all those public and private programmes that seek to prevent, reduce, and eliminate the socioeconomic vulnerabilities that lead to poverty during the life cycle, social protection acts both in regular times and during emergencies through instruments such as cash and in-kind transfers, social services and temporary employment programmes with the objective of mitigating the effects of shocks, and promoting the development of children and their families.

Under this scenario, in the area of La Guajira, Save the Children Colombia implements cash transfer programmes (CTP) for highly vulnerable migrant families with children, a critical humanitarian assistance to cover their most basic needs, but which is also complemented with other services such as a sexual and reproductive health unit, nutritional counseling, safe spaces for children's learning, and case management and guidance for families in their migration processes in the country.

Patricia*, a beneficiary of one of the CTPs implemented by Save the Children Colombia and with whom I had the opportunity to talk during my visit, was extremely satisfied with these programmes, as they contributed to her livelihood in a new environment during the most difficult moments of her journey.

Patricia* and her family arrived in Colombia from Venezuela in 2019 seeking better life opportunities. However, the arrival in the country was far from easy, due to the lack of money, social networks and safety nets, and to the fact that their irregular status did not allow them to be formally employed to generate their own means of living. The cash transfer programme allowed them to purchase food, water, medicine and other basic goods for their children upon arrival. 

It was precisely through the case management and migration orientation services that complemented the CTPs that Patricia's* family was able to benefit from the Temporary Protection Status for Venezuelan Migrants (ETPV), offered by the Colombian government from 2021 to 2022, which allowed them to have a regular migration status in the country. During national identification and registration campaigns, the Save the Children Colombia team accompanied migrant families participating in their CTPs to facilitate the registration process.

Once accessing the ETPV, people could be registered in the Identification System of Potential Beneficiaries of Social Programs (Sisbén), which is the prelude to access social protection and health programs and is one of the most complete and rigorous social registries in Latin America.

Indeed, due to Patricia's family* vulnerable status, she told us that their Sisbén survey score, based on their socioeconomic characteristics, allowed them to access the Ingreso Solidario, a temporary social protection programme by the national government with the aim of mitigating the impacts of the emergency caused by Covid-19 for poor households.

The programme delivered monthly for almost 3 years the amount of $160,000 Colombian pesos (currently approximately $40 USD) to families whose Sisbén score ranked them as poor or extremely poor and who did not have access to other state programmes, yielding positive outcomes in terms of income, education, and food for the poorest people during the pandemic.

In addition, with their inclusion in the Sisbén, people also become part of the subsidized health regime, the mechanism through which the poorest population in the country, without the capacity to pay, has access to health services offered by the state.

Just as Patricia*, as a result of Save the Children Colombia's support, many more Venezuelan families participating in La Guajira´s cash transfer programmes have been a concrete and fortunate example of how it is possible to move from one-off humanitarian aid to a scaled and sustainable response through the national social protection system to improve their living conditions.

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