Colombia’s Wayúu people live on land rich in resources. So why are their children dying of hunger?

Last Updated: June 19, 2024By

Crisis in La Guajira: Struggle for Survival


In the crack of dawn, a wailing ambulance races Rosa Epieyu and her little bub, Mateo, from Joumana, a Wayúu Indigenous community in La Guajira, Colombia, to a hospital in the nearby town of Manaure. There, a doc drops the bombshell: Mateo’s malnourished.


For Rosa, it’s déjà vu all over again; one of Mateo’s older sibs almost kicked the bucket from the same ordeal. Freaked out, she snatches essentials and hops back into the ambulance for the grueling hour and a half trek to a better-equipped hospital in Maicao.


Mateo’s on the mend now, but his plight ain’t a one-off. In La Guajira, kiddos often sport telltale signs of malnutrition: blondish locks, swollen bellies, parched skin, and heads too big for their bodies – a grim reality fueling sky-high infant death rates in the hood.


Hunger’s Cruel Grip

“In my house, there is nothing to eat. We are dying of hunger,” laments Clara, aged 10, after a fruitless forage for wild cactus goodies near Joumana. That day, she missed out on her school meal, adding insult to injury.


Struggle for a Crumb

In 2023 alone, 70 young’uns under five bit the dust from acute malnutrition in La Guajira, with El Choco and Cesar not far behind, tallying 46 and 23 deaths, respectively.


The Wayúu, Colombia’s biggest Indigenous crew, are spread thin over an area the size of Wales, sitting pretty up top South America. Despite the region’s bountiful resources – think coal, gas, and stunning Caribbean beaches – hunger and thirst run rampant, plunging the Wayúu into a full-blown humanitarian nightmare.


Fighting for Survival

Alba Epieyu, aged 44, trudges from her hood, Poloshi, to Manaure at the crack of dawn to hawk the mochilas (handbags) she weaves, hoping to eke out a living. Each bag nets her a measly 20,000 Colombian pesos (about £4), but the grind ain’t worth the gain – it barely keeps her brood fed for a day or two.


Thirsty for Relief

“In La Guajira, water is gold,” they say – and it’s drier than a desert out here. On a dusty road, folks from five different spots wait anxiously for a water lifeline, but the supply’s as fickle as Lady Luck. One day, a truck breezes by without a second glance; the next, it grudgingly fills just half a tank for a fam of 12.


Promises Dry Up

The guv’ment’s water game plan falls short, leaving many communities high and dry. Trucks were supposed to roll in every fortnight, but the reality bites – more than 1,300 hood demand, but there ain’t enough to go around.

Bleak Horizon

Despite solemn promises to ensure basic rights for Wayúu kiddos, the gov’t’s efforts fall flat. Reports cite fiscal fumbles and a litany of lapses, leaving many wondering: when will the suffering end?

A Cycle of Neglect

In La Guajira, hope’s as scarce as rain in the desert. Food programs falter, school lunches vanish, and families scrape by on scraps. The ICBF’s under fire for irregularities, leaving folks like Clara wondering if anyone’s listening to their cries for help.

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