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Environmental Issues in Colombia


Colombia has one of the richest eco-systems in the world. The country is roughly 51 percent rainforest and 68 percent forest in total, producing a significant amount of the Earth’s oxygen. Though only one-tenth the size of neighboring Brazil, it has just as many animal species. In fact, Colombia is home to 10 percent of the world’s living creatures. A UNESCO study ranks Colombia at number four in the world with regards to water reserves per area unit.


Unfortunately, Colombia is a developing nation, and despite its vast reserves of petroleum, historical widespread poverty, greed and corruption have taken their toll on this paradise. Deforestation, soil erosion, pesticides, and the contamination wrought by inadequately monitored drilling and mining have imperiled many of its native species—the Colombian grebe and the Caribbean monk seal have already become extinct—while another 114 creatures and 429 plant species are currently at risk. This is partly a consequence of up to 600,000 hectares (1,482,632 ac) of forest that have disappeared each year for the last several decades.


With most farm land owned by a minority of the country’s citizens, poor farmers are forced to seek new ground to cultivate, often the very habitats of at-risk species of plants and animals, resulting in an ecological crisis. The “drug war” has also contributed to this as coca, marijuana and poppy growers have escaped into virgin territory to grow their crops.


By the early 1990s, out of 194 countries in the world, Colombia ranked 43rd in industrial carbon emissions, totaling 63.3 million metric tons by 1996, not including vehicle emissions. While drinkable water is available to 99 percent of city residents, only 70 percent of the rural populace enjoys this privilege.


An environmental consciousness has emerged in Colombia, but it has been slow to evolve, and has been hampered by political and economic turbulence. By 1959, the government had passed measures protecting forests and the Pacific coast. In 1969 the Institute for Development of Renewable Natural Resources and the Environment (INDERENA) was established with the intention of training government employees working in conservation, forestry and fishing. The National Resources and Environment Code was established in 1973. In 1982, the Colombia Sanitary Code instituted pollution control standards.


Although the government has set aside nine percent of the country’s land as protected national park territory, effective safeguarding of the land has been hindered by the exhaustion of law enforcement in fighting drug trafficking, which in itself has contributed heavily to ecological damage through the chemicals used in the manufacture of cocaine, as well as the retaliatory fumigation of coca crops by the government.


Some of the private environmental groups that have emerged in the last few decades include Ecofondo, Censat Agua Viva and Semillas. These organizations often work with or alongside international environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wild Fund for Nature, as well as with non-environmental organizations such as the Center for Indigenous Cooperation in advising rural communities, who often engage in illegal logging as a means of survival, in cultivating environmental awareness.

In 2006 the Colombian government adopted a controversial General Forestry Law, whose intent is to provide state support for commercial logging in areas of Colombia that are not officially protected regions. The administration of then-President Álvaro Uribe argued that such a measure was necessary to stimulate job and economic growth. Opponents argued that the bill received was backed by multinational corporations, such as the paper and pulp manufacturer Smurfit Carton, and that the communities (mostly indigenous and Afro-Colombian) who live in the areas most impacted by the law were not consulted.


Surprisingly, however, a joint 2008 Yale/Colombia University study placed Colombia among the world’s top ten countries in terms of management of natural resources and pollution control.


Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Colombia: Colombia's Social Issues, Colombia's Current Political Situation, Colombia's Economy, Colombia's Economy: Past and Present and Colombia's Political System.

27 Sep 2011

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