UNHCR official reviews needs assessment approach in Ecuador

News Stories, 24 February 2009

© UNHCR/M.Lizarzaburu
Deputy High Commissioner L. Craig Johnstone with Colombian refugee children in Barranca Bermeja.

QUITO, Ecuador, February 24 (UNHCR) UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees L. Craig Johnstone wrapped up an official trip to Colombia and Ecuador at the weekend after discussing UNHCR's new needs assessment approach with Foreign Minister Fander Falconi and other Ecuadorean officials.

UNHCR last year piloted its Global Needs Assessment (GNA) programme in eight countries, including Ecuador, on four continents. The GNA comprehensively expresses the needs of refugees and others of concern under UNHCR's mandate.

GNA is being extended to all UNHCR operations from 2010-2011. Its aim is to outline the total needs of people of concern to UNHCR, the costs of meeting them and the consequences of any gaps. In Ecuador, the GNA found several gaps and a US$3.7 million programme was proposed to narrow the gaps.

During his meetings late last week in Quito with Falconi and representatives from donor countries, Johnstone stressed the importance of the GNA initiative. "We had a very productive time with the government and donors," said a UNHCR staff member who accompanied Johnstone.

The Deputy High Commissioner said during these meetings it was imperative that the international community provide the funding needed to meet the real needs identified by GNA. "If we all do our part we can make life better for the 30 million people around the world who are dependent upon us," Johnstone said.

Ecuador is home to an estimated 130,000 refugees more than any other country in South America. Most are from neighbouring Colombia and live in border communities such as Barranca Bermeja, which Johnstone visited on Friday with Falconi and Ecuador's Minister of Security Miguel Carvajal.

Barranca Bermeja lies on the San Miguel River separating Ecuador and Colombia and is home to some 50 families. More than 60 percent of the population are Colombians who fled across the river in recent years to escape conflict in their homeland. The village is about two hours drive on poor roads from the UNHCR field office in Lago Agrio, which Johnstone also visited.

Johnstone heard first hand from the locals about the tough conditions they live under. He also heard how the GNA had been applied to Barranca Bermeja. It was found that there was a dire need for water and sanitation systems; education and health facilities; and transportation for easier access to basic services. Also needed was a greater government presence so that people fleeing Colombia could be registered for asylum more easily.

Among those that Johnstone met was Doralba, a pregnant 35-year-old Colombian refugee who had come to Barranca Bermeja from a community an hour away with her 5-year-old daughter. "It is peaceful here, but it is also very isolated," she said. "I will deliver my baby in a few weeks and for that I will need to travel to the nearest health centre, which is three hours away by road."

If donors respond to the real needs identified by GNA, people like Doralba will not have to travel so far to access vital basic services such as health clinics.

By Xavier Orellana in Quito, Ecuador