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EL ESPECTADOR

Recreating Rural, Growing Organic For Medellin's Displaced

The Colombian city hosts the most citizens displaced from rural areas by the country's ongoing civil conflict. A special program allows these domestic refugees to farm in the city.

Mural in Bogota, Colombia - Artist: 9Polar at Muros Libres
Mural in Bogota, Colombia - Artist: 9Polar at Muros Libres
María Luna Mendoza

MEDELLIN — In 2002, Aura Mosquera's life changed forever. Civil unrest forced her from her home in a rural area of Antioquia, in northeastern Colombia. She arrived with her five children in Pinares de Oriente, a settlement in Medellin’s Comuna 8 neighborhood that was founded to host victims of forced displacement.

Like 650 others, Mosquera has been benefiting from a unique project spearheaded by the Architecture School of the Medellin branch of the Colombian National University. The project aims to use new urban agriculture techniques to partially reconstruct the rural social and cultural fabric for Medellin’s growing community of refugees from the countryside.

The new system of urban agriculture, which focuses on agricultural ecology and organic processes, has been the most important tool in the process of creating a collective “cultural memory” for more than 180 families of peasants who have been forcibly displaced from various parts of the country and settled in Medellin.

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In Cali, Colombia — Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

In 2012, Medellin had 37,938 residents who had been forced from their land in rural areas by armed groups — the most of any city in Colombia.

Carrying knowledge

Students, teachers and the displaced peasants work together to plant vegetable gardens, native plants and fruit trees. Building gardens and raising poultry and rabbits has both increased the communities food security and created a stronger community that has made Pinares de Oriente an oasis of peace within a sometimes dangerous part of the city, explained Guisela Quintero, a community resident.

“This project is key component in improving quality of life and environmental quality for an extremely vulnerable population,” explained professor Rafael Rueda Bedoya, the initiative leader.

For the past five years, residents in Pinares de Oriente have actively participated in workshops offered by the team from the National University. They have learned reforestation techniques, how to prepare organic fertilizer and construct sustainable habitats that contribute to repairing the environment in the area where the settlement is located.

Isela Quintero, who works with displaced peasants in Medellin’s Comuna 8, says that this project has allowed hundreds of people to reclaim their identity as farmers. Most importantly, it has given them hope that they will be able to start their lives over.

“When people are displaced, they carry knowledge with them, knowledge about how to care for and cultivate the land, and that knowledge should be preserved,” Rafael Rueda concluded.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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