Sumapaz River – A River in Crisis

Sumapaz River – A River in Crisis

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The Naranjala Creek, which feeds the Sumapaz River – in June 2014 and August 2014 (left to right)

On September 2nd, 2014, FOR Peace Presence visited the community of Naranjala and Yucala, Nilo, Cundinamarca, only a few kilometers away from the tourist destination Melgar.

Around 1920, the first families of this community arrived in the settlements of Yucala, Naranjala, and Mesa Baja, all part of the municipality of Nilo, Cundinamarca. Since then, they have tried to make a living raising domestic animals and engaging in agricultural farming and fishing in the nearby Sumapaz River and the creeks which feed it. In 1954, the state converted the community’s land into state property and constructed the military training base of Tolemaida, one of the biggest bases in Colombia today.

In attempts to displace this farming community from what is now claimed as state property, the military has consistently violated the community’s rights in numerous ways. The community of the Yucala, Naranjala and Mesa Baja has been given protections by two sentences from the Colombian state; nevertheless, violations continue. A common grievance is that the community’s attempts to farm and cultivate their crops have been sabotaged by the military – soldiers up-root planted trees and obstruct the entrance of farming or construction materials. Given the expansion of the military base, the community has been forcibly displaced further toward the Sumapaz riverside. It is then no surprise that this river has been and is becoming a crucial element of the community’s identity.

On this recent accompaniment, we headed down to Sumapaz River. Only two months ago, the company “Arenas y Gravas de Sumapaz” (“Sands and Gravel from Sumapaz”) began extracting stones and sands from the riverbeds and banks – and eventually from two islands named after the creeks of Naranjala and Yucala. These islands had been naturally formed at the junction between the creeks and the Sumapaz River. Non-violent interventions by community members have protected the island of Yucala, however there is hardly anything left of the island of Naranjala. The destruction of the island in addition to the dredging up and removal of sands and stones means that the Sumapaz River now runs low — trucks and excavators turn what remains inside out, fish have disappeared as their breeding grounds and the river’s flora and fauna have been destroyed, and the river must consistently find a new through-path, not allowing for recuperation.

We hear from community members about five licenses for extracting more material from the river that have been approved.

How much can Sumapaz River and the community bear?

To see more Before and After shots, see the FOR Peace Presence facebook album 

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