TToday's main headline in the online version of El Tiempo, Colombia's largest newspaper, reads as follows: "Government abandonment and malnutrition ramble in Choc?, where 17 children starved to death"
In a couple of hours, another headline will replace Choc?'s tragedy and few will remember these events and, more importantly, acknowledge the pressing challenge that they represent. I can't let these news go by without at least sharing my thoughts with a community that discusses precisely what is needed in such remote and often forgotten areas: active involvement of the private sector to build creative and sustainable solutions to the urgent needs of the poor.Choc? is a Colombian province located along the country's pacific coast, surrounded by an exhuberant rain forest that makes it hardly accessible by any means. Corruption of local governments, the presence of guerrillas and paramilitary groups and the resulting absence of private investment, have driven its people into a desperate situation that is rapidly turning into a public health crisis.
Adequate water sanitation and sewage systems are not in place and health care centers are difficult to reach by those in the rural areas due to prohibitive transportation costs. The situation is desperate and children are reported to die every day due to malnutrition and digestive disorders.
Solutions have so far been left in the hands of the central government, which has tried to address the health crisis through aid efforts that have not yet proved their value. El Tiempo quotes a volunteer from the NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres, who recognizes the recent government efforts but warns about them being both insufficient and unsustainable in the long run. Once again the point is made: governments alone cannot offer the solutions to the urgent needs of the poor. The presence of the private sector is a necessary condition, and can be materialized through well designed business models backed by philanthropic funding.
Reading this kind of news from my country is saddening, but even more so is finding out that the newspaper does not offer a single reference to private initiatives working on the ground to alleviate the crisis. A good friend of mine told me she wanted to help in some way but that there is no channel to support transparent and sustainable solutions. That's why this blog is a call for action in Latin America, where many regions face circumstances similar to those in Choc?.
Other regions in the world have seen the rise of successful philanthropy-based initiatives that are effectively addressing issues like water sanitation and health care through innovative business models and partnerships with local authorities. Choc? and many other regions in Latin America need that kind of action and need it now. This is the conviction that led me to join the NextBillion community in the first place, and today the most I can do is use this platform to share my thoughts.
I?m optimistic that by raising the awareness of the conditions many are experiencing in Latin America, as well as discussing effective solutions that are working in other regions, the BoP/social enterprise movement will ultimately move onto serving these isolated communities. Maybe then newspaper articles will be accompanied by links to organizations through which many that wish to contribute can do so.
(Picture from www.eltiempo.com)