By Jose Guillermo Herrera.


The armed internal conflict and poverty have placed at risk many of the 102 indigenous peoples in Colombia, a country with an Indian population of a little more than 1.37 million, equivalent to 3.36 percent of the national total.

Thirty-four of the Indian tribes in Colombian are in danger of extinction due to hunger and other factors, according to a study by the United Nations Development Program, or UNDP, released Sunday in Bogota.

"It isn't alarmism," UNDP expert Tania Guzman, the general coordinator of the study entitled "Indigenous peoples: Dialogue between cultures," told Efe.

The study is an additional element to be included with the Human Development Report prepared annually by the U.N. agency, which in three days will publicly present it in the Colombian capital.

Guzman said that the 34 tribes at risk of disappearing are part of a group of 66 that are vulnerable due to their low populations and the effects of a complex combination of "vulnerabilities of another kind."

In addition to the armed conflict and poverty, forced displacement, drug trafficking, colonization, megaprojects, hydrocarbon exploitation, mining and lumber extraction are affecting these peoples.

The figures collected by researchers show that 63 percent of the Indian population in Colombia suffers from "structural poverty" and, of those, 47.6 percent "are below the misery line."

Another statistic that is even more alarming is that more than 70 percent of Colombia's indigenous children under 15 - representing 40 percent of the population - suffer from chronic malnutrition.

The death rate per 1,000 inhabitants among the Indian tribes at risk is higher than the national average - 61 versus 41, respectively - and illiteracy among Indians over age 15 is higher than the national average and is greater among the female population.

To all of that can be added problems such as the available land for agricultural activities. For instance, potentially arable land totals 3.12 million hectares (about 7.8 million acres), less than 10 percent of the 34 million hectares (85 million acres) contained within the country's 710 Indian reservations.

Natural parks or forest preserves comprise most of the Indians' territory, and the various tribes are distributed among 228 municipalities in 27 of the country's 32 provinces.

The most extreme situation seems to be that of the tribes that are settled in the vast and remote jungles in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins, where 32 of the endangered peoples live. Of them, 10 tribes have fewer than 100 people and 18 have fewer than 200.

"The report wants to call attention to the fact that the danger of extinction exists for some indigenous peoples in the country," Guzman said.

The country has made regulatory advances including the Constituent Assembly set forth in the 1991 Constitution and overcoming situations like that of a law that defined the Indians as "minors," within the framework of discrimination that prevailed for many decades. EFE