Within Bogotá the PRUV Project has selected the Altos de la Florida informal settlement for inclusion within the project. Altos de la Florida is located in Soacha, a border city on the western edge of Bogotá. Soacha, whose original name, Suacha, comes from the Chibcha Indians and means Sua, ‘The Sun’ and Cha, ‘Male’ (The City of the Sun Male), is a border city with the south-western edge of Bogota, which communicates with other areas such as Meta and the Caguan, to the southwest, and to Huila and Tolima in the west, make it a geostrategic territory for illegal armed groups. The origins of Soacha are linked to land squatting promoted by the Communist Party (which at the time had organic links to the FARC, and which brought in the first militias as ‘self-defence’).
The municipality has historically been called the “city of the displaced”, due to the internal armed conflict in Colombia, there are about 40.000 displaced persons in Soacha, although the Unidad de Atención y Reparación a Víctimas (UARIV) figure estimates up to 50.000. Soacha has been described as a “radiography” of Colombia because we can identify there: (1) the conditions of precariousness and poverty of the local population, (2) the arrival to urban areas of rural displaced people, and (3) the economic migration to a big city such as Bogotá. All of this population has to face risks and threats in a vulnerable urban space.
Soacha is divided into six comunas and two corregimientos, which group 14 veredas and 358 legal districts, 63 of them still not legalized, thus known as informal settlements, including Altos de la Florida. This division and fragmentation by comunas causes “Soacha not [to be] understood as a municipality with an identity but by communities with different social fabric, so invisible barriers are created” (UARIV 2016). According to a report from the Corporación Infancia y Desarrollo in 2010, “more than 50% of the settlements are illegal: without title and with poor public investment. Approximately 30% of the districts are located in areas of natural risk” (Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES) 2013).
Socioeconomic inequality and vulnerability arising from it are two of the biggest problems of a municipality, with housing and high levels of unemployment stated as key factors. The urban conurbation with Bogota has also severely affected Soacha, mainly through a process of stigmatization that observed the municipality as a dormitory town of the capital, with limited financial resources, poor access to education, informal economies, violence and cheap labor. This stigmatization is also reflected in the municipality, mainly amongst young people.
Finally, the municipality has a serious institutional fragility based on a lack of resources and political will, because, despite being the municipality with the highest population density in the department of Cundinamarca and the eighth most populous city in the country, its population census is seriously out of date. According to estimates of the Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE), based on the 2005 national census, the current population in Soacha is 511.262 inhabitants. However, as pointed out by the municipal administration and organizations in the municipality, the numbers already exceed one million inhabitants (González Casas 2016). This gap causes miscalculation of services required, for example, by the UARIV (the national institution assisting victims of the conflict) as these do all their planning and resource management based on an extremely low population compare with the population that they actually have to attend. All this in a municipality which remains a hub of migration and displacement in the country, in fact, more than half of the population of Soacha, 58%, is not a native of the city and 26% is of Bogota origin, although according to the Plan de Integración Único (PIU) of the municipality in 2013, 82.1% of the resident population comes from other parts of the country due to high flows of displaced population in recent decades and previous migration processes (Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES) 2013).
Map 1. Localization map of Soacha in the Cundinamarca department
Source: Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) – Soacha.
The PRUV Case Study in Soacha is based on two localities in Altos de la Florida (Comuna VI).
The informal settlement of Altos de la Florida is located in the comuna VI in southwestern of Soacha and according to the population census of 2013 (UNIMINUTO y PNUD 2016), employs approximately 6.000 people and 1.800 families (ACNUR y PNUD 2013) located in four sectors to the top of Cerro El Esparto. In addition, 49% of the population is under 18 years of age. The main feature of Altos de la Florida is its informality and its population, which began to populate the area in the late eighties and early nineties. This population process continues as a “result of processes of invasion and subdivisions without planning approach; in fact, it does not have planning permission and is not legalized” (UNIMINUTO y UNDP 2016)
Altos de la Florida is an urban informal settlement. In addition, according to estimates by UNHCR and UNDP, over 40% of the community is made up of displaced populations (this may be more) and 60% is part of the host community (UNHCR y UNDP 2013). In Altos de la Florida there are major differences in vulnerabilities and issues within the four sectors, whether they are closest to the city level or to the top of the mountain. Observing such urban contexts as a complex adaptive system allows an understanding that humanitarian crises arise in a situation of vulnerability or previous no protection situation where a series of pre-existing factors (extreme poverty, inequality, lack of access to basic services, urbanization, poor governance), boosted by the trigger of a natural or human catastrophe, that multiply their destructive effects (Churruca 2016).