Invasive Urbanization: An Overlooked Issue
Like any other developing nation, Colombia has been subject to increased urbanization. In fact, the percentage of people who live in cities has been steadily increasing over time, standing at about 80% in 2020 (Statista 22). That being said, just a surface-level observation of any major city reveals interesting phenomena not seen in American cities. On the outskirts of traditional development are miles of spontaneously and haphazardly constructed homes. These dense, poorly planned, and often dangerous residential zones are colloquially called "invasiones," which translates to invasions. But what is the cause of these developments?
The answer to this lies in increased internal displacement from other parts of the country. According to the New Humanitarian, Colombia has the second-largest number of displaced people globally. They further that people flee from parts of the country experiencing conflict to safer, larger cities. A prime example of this is Bajo Cauca, a region in northern Colombia. They have one of the highest displacement rates in the country, with a few key factors to blame. Bajo Cause is experiencing "territorial disputes between armed groups over mineral riches, fertile land for coca cultivation, and control of major drug-trafficking routes to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts." (Collins 20). This violence and instability from organized groups understandably cause regular civilians not involved to flee. However, non-governmental groups aren't the only ones to blame, as the current administration does not understand the situation in these communities either. Collins states that President Duque and his administration prefer military solutions to most issues, furthering the hostility of already tense areas and making them more prone to emigration. Not only this, but businesses also flee for these reasons, making the place even more dead to live in. Thus displacement, but where do these people go?
Mostly, they go to cities and take any available land, which is usually public (Euro News 17). These recently displaced people obviously need homes and thus start to build. However, since this is not organized and regulated construction, people building aren't professionals. Construction is haphazard and unsafe. Another side effect of these neighborhoods being informal is the lack of services (Euro News 17). Services we take for granted in the states, such as functioning waterways, sewage management, or electricity, are not easily or traditionally available. To get around this, residents make makeshift systems to meet their needs.
An example of this is the solution to the lack of electricity. The same Euro News article explains that an electricity company would put a meter box at the community's entrance for everyone to use. At the end of the month, everyone pays the same amount, which is about 50,000 Colombian Pesos in any given Invasion. This is a substantial portion of the average salary for residents of these communities, which is about 250,000 COP (Euro News 17). This compared to the average 270,000 COP cost for all utilities (Numbeo) out of an average salary of 4,690,000 COP (Soucy 22) shows how much of a disadvantage people in these residencies are, since the most basic needs to survive in the modern world are more difficult to attain and more expensive to maintain.
At its heart, that's the theme of these communities: disadvantage. Regular people are displaced by violence and tension they have no relation to. When they uproot their established lives and go to new situations in new places, those situations are also grim. While conditions across the globe are severe, this group's particular resilience and persistence should not be overlooked.