How Colombia is trying to prevent running out of drinking water

(Image: Julian Castro)

A coalition dedicated to protecting the water resources of Colombia formally launched operations in the country on Wednesday.

The organization, the Water Coalition of Colombia, is a diverse group made up of traditional environmental organizations and powerful industry and financial groups. Its plans are some of the most ambitious and far-reaching yet seen in Colombia in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Their goals are simple. First, conserve the water resources of Colombia to protect the 43% of Colombians who depend on them for their daily lives. Second, ensure that the key industries that are responsible for producing 48% of Colombia’s GDP can continue producing along watersheds.

Once the country with the 4th greatest water wealth in the world, Colombia has slipped into 24th place as its lakes are slowly drying out, the World Economic Forum said in 2017.

Unless action is taken, the country will face serious water shortages in 30 years.

Colombia headed for serious water shortage by 2050

Forty-three watersheds in the country are in danger of drying up in the event of an abnormally dry year, according to the Colombian Ministry of Environment. If these basins were to permanently dry up, almost half of Colombia’s population would see their lives risked because of their daily dependency on accessing the water.

But the problem is not just theoretical. In the last few years, six important water basins that fill the Magdalena and Cauca rivers reached critically low capacity. If they continue to decline, Colombia’s economy may be devastated, as the region produces more than 80% of the country’s GDP, according to the coalition.

To implement these goals, the coalition is creating eight new water funds. These funds ask that all groups that share a water resource contribute collectively to protect the resource.

The system is designed to end a collective action problem– certain groups not caring about polluting a resource since they don’t personally pay for the consequences. An example of this could be a farmer who throws waste into the river since the trash would only affect his neighbors downstream.

The Water Coalition understands the urgency in which they need to respond to climate change but because of planning limitations, is still far from implementing its goal.

The group has yet to collectively agree on a plan or allocate funds to implement them, according to El Espectador. It will meet next week to begin reviewing each of its subgroups’ drafts. Within a couple of years, they hope to reach a final consensus.

Other nations have attempted to bridge the sometimes contradictory interests between private and public interests groups, but with limited success. The Water Coalition, however, believes Colombia to be different.

The place where everything has flowed very well and where we have managed to unite the public sector with the private sector and local communities is Colombia.

The Nature Conservancy

The Water Coalition remains optimistic, but Colombia faces daunting socio-political challenges that could complicate the implementation of their goals.

Illegal deforestation, mining, and illicit crop cultivation have destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of land in Colombia.

While these problems have been raging for decades, they have grown worse after the FARC guerrillas laid down their arms and demobilized its territory. At the FARC’s height, this comprised up to 30% of the country’s land, most of it being in ecologically sensitive jungles and parkland.

After demobilizing, illegal miners and criminal organizations swept in, free from any restrictions that FARC imposed previously. The Colombian state still has little to no control in these remote regions because of corruption of management officials and a crippling lack of infrastructure.

But the problems aren’t solely related to crime. Increasing urbanization and population growth have also pushed certain communities to their limits, straining food and water resources.

Increasing urbanization increases demand for deforestation, which creates a vicious cycle which only worsens climate change.

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