Peace is within Colombia’s grasp. Bringing an end to an armed conflict that has gripped the country for over 50 years and affected the lives of three generations, is more than just good news for Colombians. An enduring peace will form the solid ground for progress against poverty and for inclusive development, establishing a bulwark against the forces that give rise to violence.
For decades, Colombia has been trapped in an environment of violence rooted in inequality, poverty, and weak local institutions that the armed conflict has only made worse. With the recently announced peace agreement, the country is closer than ever to putting an end to this vicious cycle, and to starting the long and challenging process of transformation and territorial development.
Up to 8 million people have been directly affected by the conflict and more than 5 million are internally displaced. These victims are among Colombia’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. It is estimated that internally displaced people represent half of those in extreme poverty in Colombia. They lack access to dignified housing, quality education, and economic opportunities. Colombia faces enormous challenges to compensate and reintegrate this population.
The post-conflict era will bring challenges, but it will also be a period of opportunity to address important pending issues such as uneven territorial development, equity, and extreme poverty. It will now be critical for Colombia to support the stability and build the confidence of those victims through effective delivery of social services. Rebuilding the social fabric will begin to enable every Colombian to realize his or her potential. Reaching the country’s full potential will require the participation of all them, from every region, from every part of society.
The World Bank Group has been working with Colombia to build a development strategy that will benefit the poor and help the country take advantage of the possibilities that come with peace. In recent years, we have been helping the country build and improve economic activity and public services in lagging and conflict-affected regions, with a special focus on the needs of victims through the Collective Victims Reparation Project.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to see the potential of this approach when I visited the Afro-descendent community of Guacoche, in northern Colombia. The community, which suffered extreme violence by paramilitary groups in the 1990s, is benefitting from the government’s efforts at social fabric reconstruction, economic compensation, land restitution, rehabilitation, and victims’ personal safety. This form of collective reparation serves as an example for other efforts in the country and the world where similar conflicts fester.
Building a stable peace will also require a focus on vital infrastructure: water and sanitation services, electrification, transport, and the revitalization of the second largest port (Buenaventura) - all of which will benefit a predominantly Afro-descendent community and a large internally displaced population. The post-conflict development agenda will remain central to our partnership with Colombia, which focuses on supporting the country efforts to maintain and strengthen development — from social mobility to territorial development to productivity and macroeconomic policy.
International experience provides some positive examples of successful negotiations and transitions to peace after long periods of conflict. Aceh in Indonesia and Mindanao in the Philippines are two instances where national governments used the international community to support the foundations of stability and to address long-term developmental goals.
In its long history of working with countries post-conflict, the World Bank Group has drawn a number of key lessons. These include:
- Investments must be adapted to regional and local contexts to build credibility and ownership.
- Quick results help set foundations for stability and change in the medium term.
- The government must be involved to build public trust.
- Including citizens and relevant non-state actors in decisions and resource allocation broadens ownership, improves the adequacy of interventions, and strengthens trust.
- Periodic surveys are essential to measure progress and impact.
Colombian authorities have outlined a strong path forward for the transition from conflict to peace. And we in the international community are ready to support a more comprehensive peace and development plan that looks at addressing some of the fundamental causes of the violence.
Peace and development go hand in hand - a strong and sustainable development agenda is critical for continued success. Peace in Colombia provides an opportunity to show the world that it is possible to heal through inclusion and equitable development.
Jim Yong Kim is President of the World Bank Group