The Hiding Problem

Street art reflecting the conflict in Colombia. Photo by Dawn Paley on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Graph reflecting progress towards MDG poverty goal

Colombia is a country where progress towards the MDGs might seem to have been steadfast and consistent. The reduction in poverty and increases in the coverage of health services and education, among other successes, seem to point to the consolidation of a welfare society and the realization of the principles of equity embraced by the MDGs. However, a closer look at Colombia presents a different picture: 14.6 of the country’s 46 million inhabitants currently live in poverty (32.2% of the total population) and 4,5 million inhabitants are indigent (10.9% of the total population)[1]. Other indicators point to the land ownership inequality within the country that makes the rural inequality of Colombia (GINI index of 0.88) the highest in the world[2].

How is it that Colombia has progressed towards the MDGs, yet there are still such widespread problems? When we consider that 80% of the countries that the World Bank categorizes as ‘fragile or conflict-affected’ are failing to meet the basic poverty targets, this may shed light on where and why policies that fought for MDGs have failed to succeed. The interdependence between peace, institutions and development[3] could explain why “violence and fragility has become the largest obstacle [against poverty]”[4]. It is no accident that the majority of the world’s poorest population now live in a small group of conflict-affected and fragile states[5]. Where conflict prevails any progress can be ephemeral.

Colombia is one such country that has a history of violence and conflict that has likely interfered with effective development, despite its apparent progress with the MDGs. The Colombian conflict can be traced back to 1948, the 1960’s or even be seen as a by-product of the partisan violence between liberals and conservatives which took place several years before then. Just during the period between 1985 and 2013 about 5 to 6 million inhabitants were forcibly displaced by violence, and Colombia has one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world. This is not a picture congruent with the transformation hoped for.

Fortunately, this is a problem that the post-2015 development agenda has the potential to correct, due to the inclusion of the peace and security goal. This goal can help support opportunities for peace in Colombia (between the Colombian government and the FARC[6]), currently expressed in peace negotiations which have, thus far, been successful, and seem to be promising for creating the venues for reduction of poverty. The current peace negotiations present an extraordinary opportunity for peace, as both parties have been brought to a point where the experiences and learning from the failure of the previous peace attempts can be used. A new social covenant could be arrived at which could open avenues for participation of different actors and provide for a more inclusive society.

The case of Colombia reveals how face-value progress at some of the MDGs can mask other drivers of poverty, such as conflict, and illustrates the importance of peace and security measures as a requirement to make the fight against poverty effective. Efforts to ensure that these measures are incorporated into the post-2015 development agenda are significant step in the right direction.



Fabio Andrés Díaz holds a MSc in Engineering and an MA in Development Studies. He has formerly held research positions with the Center for Conflict analysis and Management (CICAM) at Radboud University, Nijmegen, and is also a member of the REDH Network of Scientists and Researchers on Colombia in the Netherlands. He is currently a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Rhodes University, South Africa.


[1] El Espectador. 2nd of October 2013. Retrieved from on February 11th 2015.

[2] Revista Semana. Retrieved from on February 11th 2015.

[3] (2014) SAFERWORLD. Conflict and the post-2015 development agenda. Perspectives from South Africa. February 2014

[4] (2012) SAFERWORLD. Approaching post-2015 from a peace perspective. September 2012 briefing

[5] (2013) ACT ALLIANCE. post-2015 Development Framework Conflict and fragility. March 2013. This share is projected to increase from 30% in 2000 to 70% by 2025.

[6] Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

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