“We must consider water management for peace building in our country, just as people have been victims of conflict, displacement and dispossession, water has also been a victim of conflict and requires reparation.”– Paola Moreno Bermudez, Colombia Program Coordinator, Green Empowerment
In October, Paola Moreno and staff from two of our key partners in Colombia attended a four day course, Community water management: horizons of solidarity and territorial defense presented by the Universidad de Los Andes (University of the Andes) and the Colombian NGO, CENSAT Agua Viva. While Green Empowerment has decades of experience implementing water systems with communities throughout Latin America, our focus in Colombia has been on renewable energy and technology for sustainable agriculture. The training supported an exciting expansion in our local programs – working with current partners and building new partnerships with the goal of offering support to communities seeking to build, manage, and maintain their own water systems.
Since 2016, Green Empowerment has worked with partners in Colombia primarily on agro-ecological technology, specifically on the implementation of biodigesters (which convert manure and human waste into compost and cooking fuel), the establishment of orchards to guarantee food sovereignty, and the implementation of rainwater reservoirs.
Our work in the country has thrived because of the strength of local partner organizations – who have strong ties to local communities and deep understanding of the local and national context. Some of these partners are now expressing interest working with communities on water access.
In addition, Paola Moreno explains that this is a moment of opportunity in Colombia in terms of water management and conservation. This June, for the first time, Colombia elected a left-wing President. Since then the new congress ratified the Escazú Agreement, a treaty among Latin American and Caribbean states to enhance citizen access to information and participation in decision-making processes around environmental issues.
While there are many national barriers to community management of water, the new government’s plan raises the importance of considering water as foundational for the protection of ecosystems and territories. The plan officially recognizes the environmental struggles that communities and grassroots social organizations have been leading for several years. Paola Moreno points out that “With this panorama from the state dimension, Colombia is at a very important moment to review the territorial ordering around water and to stimulate the participation of citizens in decisions.”
Paola Moreno noted that “During 4 day course …all the people with whom we interacted are linked to the management of community water systems from the technical, administrative, social and environmental tasks.” The sessions included both practical nuts and bolts topics such as basic concepts of hydrology and impacts on rural communities, and technical aspects of water supply, as well as critical discussions on how we approach this work such as solidarity aspects of water management and the gender approach in water decision-making scenarios.
“Not only were we able to have access to technical and academic information related to water management, but we also had the opportunity to exchange and learn about the experiences of people who have already been working on water management issues.”– Sara Marcela Alhucema, Executive Director of El Común, our longest running partner in Colombia.
The course also positioned this work in the national political context. Training ended with the presentation of a draft legislative initiative to protect the right to community water management and establish a legal framework for relations with the State, presented by Red Nacional De Acueductos Comunitarios de Colombia (National Network of Community Water Systems of Colombia.) Clara Esther, Executive Director and María Fernanda, Social and Community Promoter, from our partner Corambiente shared that “For us it is essential to join the efforts that come out of these networks and gatherings, because we believe that together we can multiply our efforts and have greater impact.”
A New Chapter for Green Empowerment in Colombia
With Paola Moreno leading the way, we are exploring opportunities with both current and new partners to support community water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) projects in Colombia. We have taken time this year to consult with our partners about water access and management in the communities where they work and to gauge organizational interest in undertaking WaSH projects. At the same time, we are building relationships with new partners who either do this work already or are interested in beginning and see a real value-add of working with Green Empowerment.
In November, we started work on our first Colombia WaSH project with partner El Común. Together we will work with Aguafría and Morarío Villages in Guapotá, Santander to evaluate their 50-year-old water system and identify possibilities for technical improvements such as strengthening community management.
This is just the beginning. As Sara Marcela Alhucema from EL COMUN shared, “We recognize that there is a conflict around water, but we also recognize the existence of a whole movement for its defense; a movement where all efforts count and where [we] put [our] commitment.”
Written in Collaboration with Paola Moreno Bermudez:
With a degree in Biology and a Masters in Education, Paola is a specialist in education and environmental management. She supports our partners and projects in Colombia with her strong gender equity lens and experience working with rural communities in Colombia.