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colombia: challenging the privatization of biodiversity and water

In Colombia, transnational corporations (TNCs) are striving to gain control of the country’s biodiversity, creating and deepening environmental conflicts as they appropriate the country’s natural heritage. TNCs’ activities are destroying the livelihoods of communities that used to live in harmony with nature, and threatening their traditional wisdom, knowledge and values. This process of privatization and commodification of life is highly visible in the case of forests and water.

colombia: challenging the privatization of biodiversity and waterTransforming the way in which water is managed is critical: nearly 53% of the rural population is without access to drinking water, and hundreds of thousands have been disconnected from water services because they can’t pay for them.


what happened?

FoE Colombia / CENSAT decided to challenge this process of commodification by having a strong presence in the regions worst affected by the privatization of biodiversity and water, and by leading campaigns on water and forests, together with other social movements and organizations.


FoE Colombia worked to empower communities to manage their environmental heritage, giving them the strength to resist control of their territories by TNCs. It also aimed to foster coordination among communities at the local, regional and national levels.


They did this through collective awareness raising, popular environmental education and capacity building processes, and by using new and innovative methods to facilitate the exchange and sharing of knowledge between generations.


They carried out a wide range of activities to support calls for a referendum that could see the country’s constitution amended to include water as a human right. They organized Cultural Tents to inform people about the impacts of privatization and the reasons for promoting a referendum, and held National Days for the collection of signatures in cities, rural areas, small towns, and universities. More than two million signatures were collected.


The campaign also involved advocacy work with local government and the national parliament.


what changed?

One part of the campaign, against new legislation designed to allow for the privatization and corporate exploitation of forests, has already been particularly successful: the legislation was finally rejected on the basis that it was unconstitutional. Such successes are fundamental in empowering and encouraging communities to resist the violations of their rights by foreign companies and their national subsidiaries.


Strong links have also been built with the movement of university students in both urban and rural areas.


FoE Colombia, along with many movements and organizations, led a campaign to collect more than 2 million signatures calling for a national water referendum to defend water as a human right. The petition on the water referendum sent a strong message to parliamentarians drafting the law, demanding that they respect the proposal and not make any changes to it.


what next?

FoE Colombia is committed to continuing this campaign, despite the difficult political context. Social movements and communities are eager to engage in the collective struggle against corporate power, and have a great deal of wisdom and experience to contribute to the transformation agenda.


with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)



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