Venezuelans wait at the Rumichaca bridge checkpoint connecting Colombia and Ecuador. Photo by: REUTERS / Daniel Tapia

NEW YORK — The United Nations Population Fund says limited humanitarian funding in Colombia will not last beyond December, further threatening their already limited response to the sexual and reproductive health needs of Venezuelans seeking to migrate there.

UNFPA Colombia has received approximately $1.4 million for the humanitarian response in 2019, at least $5 million short of what the office requires for the calendar year, according to UNFPA Colombia country representative Verónica Simán. UNFPA’s scope of work, however, is expanding well beyond its budget, as Venezuelans continue to cross the border and seek contraception and other sexual and reproductive health care, according to Simán.

“We have a budget as an office to implement the country program. But this is a humanitarian response that is way beyond what you could expect,” Simán told Devex in a recent phone interview. “The issue is that there are limited resources and with what we have we cannot cover all the needs there are.”

Colombia, which had the largest global number of internally displaced persons at the end of 2018, has also become the largest recipient of Venezuelans since Venezuela’s socioeconomic and political crisis began to worsen in 2014. The Venezuelan population rose from approximately 695,000 at the end of 2017 to over 4.3 million by mid-2019, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

The U.N. has received 29% of the $737.6 million it is seeking for the Venezuelan crisis, and in mid-August launched a renewed funding strategy of $223 million that could aid 2.6 million Venezuelans by the end of 2019. That aid, though, would still only reach a fraction of the approximate 7 million people who the U.N. estimates are in need.

Aid agencies have received a wide range of funding in the U.N.’s latest update on the Venezuelan crisis. While the World Health Organization has received 1.2% of its required funds, for example, the UN Refugee Agency has received about 43%, according to U.N. figures.

Oxfam International, meanwhile, has received more than 252% of the initial $600,000 it sought for 2019. Most of its funding comes from the European Union and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, according to Tania Escamilla, regional communications coordinator at Oxfam International.

The impacts of the funding shortfall for UNFPA Colombia, in particular, are varied yet visible, according to Simán. The Colombia country office is implementing a total of $4.1 million, including regular resources as part of their budget, in 2019.

UNFPA has improved the quality of obstetric emergency care in 15 health clinics in 9 municipalities, but clinics in at least 14 additional municipalities require obstetric care upgrades, as well. The agency is reaching 7,000 Venezuelan women with contraception, a fraction of the 300,000 who are estimated to be in need.

And unplanned pregnancies among teenagers in Colombia have recently reversed course and are once again rising, according to Simán. Approximately 24% of Venezuelan women giving birth in Colombia are adolescents, Simán said.

The number of Venezuelans coming through Colombia, meanwhile, has increased in the last few weeks, Simán said.

“We are hoping to reach around 20,000 women and adolescents, approximately. There are many, many more coming through and what we are trying to do is build capacity so service providers have complied with a minimum for standards in emergency,” Simán said.  

“There is a need for more resources than what we have available. People talk about donor fatigue and certain situations. We are not getting the funding we need,” Simán continued.

The U.N. released $75 million on Thursday from its Central Emergency Fund to support eight underfunded emergencies, including Venezuela. About $10 million of that will go to Venezuela, plus $6 million to neighboring countries of Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru in relation to the Venezuela crisis, according to U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesperson Hayat Abu-Saleh.

“I have knocked on the door of various donors to try to identify the possibility of receiving funding for the response. With some of them we are still in discussion, but others do not have more funding for this year, etc.” Simán said.

Prenatal and childbirth care, care for survivors of gender-based violence, prevention of STIs and HIV, and abortion access services are all in jeopardy if more funding does not materialize for UNFPA by the end of the year, she said.

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.