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June 6, 2016
UN promotes a major regional agreement for water in the Colombian Massif

By Nadya González, Communications at FAO Colombia / Victor Garrido, Communications at SDGF

Popayan - Cauca (Colombia), 14 April 2016 --- The Colombian Massif region is home to the most important watershed in the country and host to one of the largest reserves of fresh water in equatorial areas worldwide. Despite being designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, deforestation coupled with the emergence of illicit crops and deregulated agricultural borders of indigenous rural communities in the last decade have plunged the mountainous stretch into deterioration.

In order to better assess the current state of water resources in the Colombian Massif, as well as the need to stimulate a major regional agreement for water, the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F) Joint Programme in Colombia gathered 300 representatives from local administrations, community councils, community aqueduct consumer boards, indigenous rural representatives and the education sector for the recent workshop titled 'Integrated Water Management in the Colombian Massif: Reflections and Imaginaries.'

With the support of the United Nations, this important agreement formalizes a commitment between local government, students, teachers, rural community and grassroot organizations to develop protection plans for the watershed and surrounding forests.

"Through this event we intend to draw the regional stakeholders’ attention to the degradation of the Cauca Massif's natural resources, and to drive social mobilization, institutional will and technical cooperation towards integrated water management. As well as raising awareness, we hope that this initiative will result in concrete actions from local and regional levels for the sustainability of natural resources," explained Maria Lizarazo, from the UN Joint Programme in Colombia.

This workshop was held at the Rural Educational Institution Nuestra Señora del Rosario in San Sebastian, in the heart of the Colombian Massif. Nuestra Señora del Rosario was selected as the winning entry for the environmental contest 'More Water in the School Environment in a Changing Climate', also promoted by the UN Joint Programme, with the goal of improving integration of educational institutions in rural areas.

"At the UN, we promote development that is built with people and communities and as such, schools are an essential aspect of the development process of the country," said Maria Paulina García of the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Colombia.

In addition to community cultural events, a series of lectures were held as part of the International Water Day celebration, including that of Stephan Roux, an international consultant on Water Management. "Not everything is a result of climate change, there are many actions that we can carry out in our day to day lives to protect the watershed,” Mr. Roux pointed out. “Green cleaning of river banks is one of the critical actions that help manage water sources.”

As part of this Joint Programme initiative, the Government of Colombia and UN agencies contribute to sustainable rural development and to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. To promote greater food security, many of the local producers also receive support and technical inputs to implement amaranth and vegetable crops and to promote the production of healthy and clean food. 

The programme aims to integrate and coordinate vital environmental aspects of the country’s development agenda, as well as national policies on water resource management and climate change. Better water management is a key component, for not only rural residents, farmers and indigenous populations, but also to local communities that depend on water as a natural resource.