Colombia, Peru Join Forces to Lend Humanitarian Aid Along the Putumayo, Amazon Rivers

Thousands join in Binational Development Assistance Campaign along the banks of the Putumayo and Amazon rivers.
Marian Romero/Diálogo | 4 August 2016

Capacity Building

The Putumayo is a tributary of the Amazon originating in Nudo de los Pastos in Colombia. The communities have begun to associate the river's growth with the Colombia-Peru Binational Development Assistance Campaign because it coincides with the beginning of the rainy season. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

Colombia’s and Peru’s navies joined forces to hold the tenth annual Binational Development Assistance Campaign in order to improve the health and welfare of communities located along the shores of the Putumayo river, an Amazon tributary running across the border between both nations, and the Amazon River itself.

For 62 days, 167 towns benefitted from the joint campaign along more than 2,500 kilometers down the rivers' path. The four vessels, two from each partner nation navy, delivering 100 metric tons of donations provided by the public and private sector including medicine, clothes, toys, and food; medical services in specialties including general medicine, dentistry, vaccination, clinical laboratory, nutrition as well as social services including civil registry, providing identification documents, migratory procedures; and veterinary, agricultural, and. The humanitarian assistance campaign began on May 18th in the Colombian municipality of Puerto Leguízamo, and ended on July 18th in Chimbote, Peru.

The campaign also provided medical services including general medical, dental, and pediatric care, vaccinations, psychological help, family planning, lab work, and nutritional assessments, in addition to social services to issue identity cards, fill out immigration-related paperwork, and training in veterinary, agricultural, and liquids/solids waste management.

Naval Infantry Brigadier General Álvaro Augusto Cubillos, commander of the Southern Colombian Naval Force and director of the Binational Development Assistance Campaign, said the experience was gratifying in three ways: "Providing aid to the most remote communities from urban centers, strengthening ties with neighboring Peru, and creating closer links between the civil population and the Armed Forces.”

Humanitarian Crossing of the Putumayo and the Amazon Rivers

The banks of the Putomayo and Amazon rivers are populated mainly by indigenous peoples. The indigenous residents have their own traditional systems of authority, learning, and healthcare. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

The fleet comprised Peruvian Navy ship Loreto and hospital ship Morona, Colombian Navy ships ARC Leticia and ARC Cotuhe, along with a couple of cargo trailers. It navigated down the rivers to stop at each of the border towns situated along their shores with a crew of 450 people, including Sailors and non-uniformed personnel from the two countries.

Medical care was provided in the Bongo Hospital, a towed 30-meter by 10-meter structure. It contained eight rooms for medical and dental consultations, minor surgeries, the ability to conduct bacteriological lab tests, and to cut and style hair, among other uses. As the fleet advanced downstream, it remained at each community for one to four days, depending on each town's needs and size.

The majority of the populations which received services were rural and indigenous. Amazonian peoples such as the Murui, the Quechua, and the Inga (descendants of the Incas) have benefitted from the annual campaign.

According to Brig. Gen. Cubillos, the communities have become well accustomed to the annual binational visit because it represents a chance to improve their quality of life through healthcare and the formalization of their migratory status, which is extremely important in border areas.

In addition, during each visit, there is room for leisure and recreation led by the Colombian Army's Special Psychological Operations Groups, experts in play-based human-rights education and training.

The navies also made efforts to integrate Colombian entities such as the Family Welfare Institute, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Culture, National Civil Registry, National Immigration Agency, Presidential Agency for International Cooperation, and departmental governments.

History of the Assistance Campaign

The Colombia-Peru Binational Development Assistance Campaign has taken place for the last 10 consecutive years. It has been recognized as one of the most important humanitarian activities in Latin America due to the two nations’ collective efforts to benefit neighboring vulnerable populations.

The border region is a dense jungle environment that is generally home to indigenous communities who live along the river banks, far removed from municipalities. The only transportation route available is usually the river, and a trip on a small boat costs between $2 and $3, a steep price for local residents. This makes access to healthcare and other government services difficult.

The Colombia-Peru Binational Development Assistance Campaign is conceived as a cultural exchange between the ship crews and the communities receiving the services. Navigating the fresh waters of the Putumayo and Amazon rivers during two months represents a learning experience for the visitors and develops closer ties between local villagers and the Armed Forces. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

During the opening ceremony, Norma Vidal Añaños, the Peruvian Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion’s vice minister of Social Benefits, stated that the joint campaign is "a demonstration of inter-institutional and intergovernmental coordination and collaboration to serve border populations in situations of extreme poverty and vulnerability, since both countries share common realities." The joint campaign takes place within the framework of the Integral Action Strategy of the Colombian Armed Forces and Peru's Social Action with Sustainability Strategy.

This year, 65,000 services were expected to be rendered to service some 21,000 people, according to Colombian Navy Admiral Leonardo Santamaría, commander of the National Navy. In effect, the campaign attended 19.156 people and offered 53.560 services. In comparison, in 2015, 19,135 people received services, including 13,672 Colombians and 5,463 Peruvians. These numbers have consistently grown compared to the first campaign in 2007, when a total of 4,794 services were provided to 6,426 Colombians and 3,577 Peruvians.

A Year's Work Makes Assistance Campaign Possible

Every campaign requires a year of preparation to coordinate the efforts of the private sector and government agencies in both countries with the indigenous governments, to coordinate with the town halls and governorships, and to obtain national and international donations, among other procedures.

Multiple state entities have contributed donations to the effort. This year, for example, the U.S. Southern Command donated a metric ton of medicines for the campaign.

"Local people are waiting very enthusiastically for the campaign to return, since it has become an annual source of improved welfare for the river towns, so we want to continue expanding and improving it every year," said Brig. Gen. Cubillos, who foresees improvements to the Bongo Hospital as well as increased donations for 2017.

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