Colombia River Stories:improving socio-environmental understandings for building sustainable peace

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Social & Political Sciences

Abstract

Colombia is in the process of transitioning from one of the most protracted civil conflicts in the world to peace. However, one of the major societal issues for post-conflict transitions in Colombia is how to ensure the inclusion and participation of vulnerable and marginalised groups in transition processes so that their knowledges, abilities and capacities are represented, and so that they can influence post-conflict development. This raises questions of how innovative community- engaged and participatory processes can achieve greater inclusivity in peace building processes. It also raises the question of how different conflict actors can be encouraged and facilitated to articulate their knowledge and experience of conflict in ways that enable their actions to be explained to one another, and that support a shift from narrow understandings of the causes of conflict based on personal experience to more expansive understandings that are based on collective experiences.
In this research, we focus on riverine communities along the Atrato River - the main artery of Choco. These communities have been deeply impacted by armed actors who are engaged in widespread, illegal alluvial gold mining which is a key factor in their forced displacement and the loss of traditional, sustainable livelihoods. Despite a 2017 Colombian Constitutional Court ruling to empower riverine communities with 'bio-cultural rights' that protect their land title and livelihoods, they remain marginalised. They struggle to make their voices heard and to influence and inform peace building processes. This marginalisation has also been experienced by the river itself, whose voice has been silenced through the abandonment of state-sponsored environmental monitoring programmes at the height of the conflict. As a result, the effects of conflict and alluvial mining on the form and function of the river, and the impacts of these on interactions between armed actors, the river, and the communities it sustains are poorly understood. This will only be addressed if marginalised voices of communities and the river are articulated and amplified so that their knowledges, abilities and capacities can be integrated into sustainable peace building processes. Achieving this is the primary aim of this project.
Conceptually, our project builds on a key emphasis of peace processes worldwide: the capture and re-telling of testimony so that conflict actors can better appreciate the complexities of the conflict in which they are engaged, and the inter-relationships and feedbacks between their actions, and those of others, which fuel the conflict. Such knowledge is a fundamental precursor to the development of sustainable and feasible strategies for peace. The project is structured and designed to elicit, analyse and co-produce testimonies as an integrated 'river story', sourced from multiple participants and perspectives - including marginalised human actors and the river itself. The project therefore uses an innovative and multi- disciplinary methodology that brings social scientists and natural scientists together - integrating their research methods and techniques to capture human stories through community-level, participatory research and the river's story through field- based scientific monitoring and environmental reconstruction and mapping. The story books that are produced, and the policy briefs that they underpin, will be the vehicles through which policy-makers are bought into dialogue with the marginalised voices of both riverine communities and the river itself, and thorough which they improved understandings of the key actors and drivers of conflict in Choco' and the priorities and strategies for sustainable peace building, will be gained.

Planned Impact

The project will develop a series of 'River Stories' to exploit the timeliness of the Colombian Constitutional Court Ruling T- 622, which recognises the River Atrato as a bearer of rights and calls on both communities and the state to be its 'Guardians'. The ruling identifies the rights of communities to physical, cultural and spiritual survival, guaranteeing their traditional livelihoods. The ruling calls on the Colombian state to ensure the rights are enforced - and it demands that local people are empowered to manage their river properly and demand the proper implementing of the ruling. We will work with the Ministry for Environment and Development, international NGOs and specialist networks to improve the processes of sustainable peace building in Colombia, particularly with Afro-Colombian communities. Our impact strategy is directly informed through the co-produced priorities formulated through longstanding relationships with Colombian and UK partner organisations.
Our pilot research in Chocó in August 2017 highlighted that a key challenge facing riverine communities is the effect of non-regulated alluvial gold mining, which undermines both livelihoods and security. However communities face a lack of available, accessible and reliable data on how the socio-environment has been affected by alluvial gold mining and conflict. This research will inform their strategies to engage with state and international actors to push for the rehabilitation of their environment and the development of sustainable peace.
The project targets populations at local, regional, national and international level. By having communities and practitioners as partners, we also locate impact at the centre of the research model so that fresh understandings that are generated can be fed directly into, and influence, policy debates. Knowledge created by the research will have usable implications beyond the case study sites. Three main impact strategies will be developed:
1.Co-production with comunities of a range of outputs targeted at different decision makers and available in different formats in order to democratise of the voices that are captured, shared, amplified and integrated during reconciliation and peace building processes.
2.Capacity Building: We will build capacity among community members alongside the Atrato River in environemtal monitoring technquies so that they can act as 'Guardians' of the river (as mandated in Court Ruling T-622) and thus ensure a more inclusive and sustainable transition to peace.
3.Communication of river stories, which has the dual purpose of raising awareness among different constituencies of the interconnected challenges to peace in Choco' with regard to the wider socio-environment and ensuring that the voices of Afro-Colombian communities in Choco' are included processes of sustainable peace building. Research outputs will inform communities' strategies to engage with state and international actors to push for the rehabilitation of their environment and the development of sustainable peace.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We are 7 months into a 24 month project so data collection is ongoing and therefore objectives only partially met.

To date, we have conducted a series of interviews with key stakeholders in policy communities in Colombia as well as in the two municipalities of Rio Quito and Medio Atrato. These have uncovered fresh insights into individual and community knowledges of the conflict ecosystem in Chocó. Two key issues stand out: firstly, there is a lack of knowledge among communities about the Constitutional Court Ruling T 622 and its implications for river development. To this end, our partner, Pastoral Social, is developing education and awareness building initiatives in the region and to which we are contributing. Secondly, ongoing and elevated conflict in Chocó has hugely adverse effects on communities already facing multiple insecurities. We are mapping the dynamics of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region to elicit insights into challenges for sustainable peace; however, the context can also inhibit research. Our different methods are beginning to allow us to trace ways in which mining linked to illicit armed actors is developing over time and space. For security reasons, we are cautious about sharing such findings while the research is ongoing.

A major challenge we identified at the outset was the lack of robust scientific data on the state of the river. This has continued to prove a major impediment not only to our research, but to community's capacity to advocate for meaningful socio-environmental restoration efforts. To counteract this, we have developed new partnerships for data sharing with Colombian organisations, such as the Mining Observatory at the Universidad de Rosario, World Wildlife and the IDEAM (Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies). Drawing on some of these data, a team of doctoral researchers at the University of Nottingham have been developing a distributed hydrological model (at 1000 m resolution) for the Rio Quito - validated against Global Rivers Data Centre data from the 1980s (i.e. a pre-disturbance model). This work is ongoing.

A key component of this research project is to work with communities to build capacity in environmental awareness and monitoring, with a view to enhancing communities advocacy potential. We have conducted a series of participatory workshops in which we developed new and context appropriate citizen science methodology, which will be piloted over coming months. Our local partner, Pastoral Social, will ensure sustainability by trialling this through its public health programme. The methodology seeks to build capacity among riverine communities in recognising how different elements of river health are linked (using the model of a functional pyramid) as well as providing clear tools on monitoring river health and environmental change. Volunteers have been trained in river monitoring techniques and both a training manual and videos are available to all participants (and online at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-sdkXb_EI5fCRJApZcSBYw/featured).
Exploitation Route CARITAS has declared the Atrato will be an emblematic case for their Colombia Working Group (from April 2019-2021). Our partners Pastoral Social (Caritas Colombia), SCIAF and AB Colombia, all members of the Caritas network, are beginning to use our research findings in their advocacy programmes at local, national and international levels. This involves developing education and awareness building initiatives in the region (to which we are contributing through our citizen science component) and developing international awareness raising activities around the specific case of the Atrato River. We have secured extra University of Glasgow funding to invite 'River Guardians' to UK and we will organise a workshop in Glasgow, as well as an event at the UK parliament to raise awareness of and advocate for the implementation of the Colombian Constitutional Court Ruling T-622.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Our impact strategy is directly informed through longstanding relationships with Colombian and UK partner organisations. Two specific impacts are being developed in this first phase. Firstly, in January 2019, we held a number of workshops in Chocó to develop our citizen science programme with communities along the Atrato River. The aim here is twofold: to democratize access to data and to build capacity among communities in environmental monitoring. The research team trained volunteer community members in basic techniques to monitor river health which groups in two municipalities will take forward to collect data for a period of six months. In one community, the newly trained team tested drinking water samples for the presence of coliform bacteria, presented findings to the community and were able to offer guidance on boiling water etc. This element of our research has been embedded into the public health programme of the local Pastoral Social (Caritas Colombia). In addition to workshops in communities, an online video training course and written training manual in Spanish have been developed and are publically available on the porject website and youtube. Secondly, we continue to develop our relationships with national and international organisations to feed into advocacy to demand the implementation of Constitutional Court Ruling T-622. Members of the research team have held a number of targeted knowledge exchange meetings with both governmental and non-governmental organisations in Colombia. Specifically, we have fed into the implementation of the Ruling T-622 through our assessment of the baselines study (communicated in a letter to the Minister of Environment) and we are developing a series of targeted advocacy activities to inform, support, and increase the impact of actions coordinated by the CARITAS network (Colombia Working Group) and local river guardians in support of the River Atrato as an emblematic case.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description University of Glasgow Knowledge Exchange Flexible Fund
Amount £13,400 (GBP)
Funding ID GKE221 
Organisation University of Glasgow 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 09/2019
 
Description Article for PHYS.ORG online newsletter about the preliminary fieldwork and mapping of illegal giold mining by the Colombia River Stories project team 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Article for PHYS.ORG online newsletter about the preliminary fieldwork and mapping of illegal giold mining by the Colombia River Stories project team, aimed at the general public, particularly secondary school students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://phys.org/news/2018-09-aim-colombia-illegal-gold.html
 
Description Bete River Health and Citizen Science Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact River health workshop in Bete. Introduced community to concepts of river health and engaged community in the production of 'rich pictures'. Capacity building delivered in equipment and methods for undertaking citizen science water quality monitoring.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Citizen Science Workshop Pilot UTCH 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 8 members of the UTCH Limnology Research Group attended a pilot of the citizen science workshop to be run in the Bete and Paimado communities. Delivered 'rich picture' of river health and raised questions about how communities could be engaged to monitor river health.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Coliform testing - Paimado 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Coliform testing of Paimado water supply and reporting of results to community. Community leaders in Paimado had raised concerns about the safety of their drinking water supply and requested that we test it. We did so, finding high coliform counts and were able to advise the community of the importance of boiling their drinking water - especially for vulnerable groups.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description IDEAM Hydrology Team Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshop at IDEAM to examine data needs and availability for effective hydrological / water quality monitoring and modelling of the Atrato in the context of T-622 ruling. Resulted in development of data sharing agreement and raised debate about whether the current river / water quality monitoring programme is adequate for the T-622 ruling.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description MASS Doctoral Training Programme Water Challenge 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact An 8-week challenge engaging PhD students from the Leverhulme MASS DTP in capacity building in the area of rainfall-runoff modelling as a part of socio-environmental research. Developed skills in the use of distributed hydrological modelling software, GIS and overcoming the challenges of modelling in sparse data contexts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/mathematics/prospective/research/mass/mass.aspx
 
Description Paimado River Health and Citizen Science Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact River health workshop in Paimado. Attended by school children, their teachers and members of the community council. Built capacity in the understanding of river health and its causes and effects. Generated a team of citizen scientists to undertake water quality monitoring.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Participation in Tierra Digna Diploma - Socio-environmental Activism 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I took part in a training workshop run by NGO Tierra Digna with 20 community leaders in Chocó, Colombia. The workshop addressed socio-environmental activism. As part of this, I introduced the participants to the key themes of our research project, and we discussed how the results of the study might inform their activism.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Poster presentation at the 2018 Geological Remote Sensing conference (GRSG2018) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a Poster presentation with a brief (3-minute) summary to the audience. The poster summarises the history and extent of illegal gold mining in the Choco study region, the uses of satellite remote sensing to detect and monitor the illegal mining and associated deforestation, and the preliminiary findings with regard to the Colombia River Stories project. The audience was mainly remote sensing professionals, academics and postgrad research students, including representatives of extractive industry companies (e.g. Shell, Rio Tinto, Anglo American). From the audience questions and comments, many were impressed with the River Stories objective of linking with local communities and seeking to build local capacity in using freely available remote sensing data and GIS freeware to produce maps that helped to strengthen community resilience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.grsg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/GRSG-AGM-and-Conference-Abstract-Book-2018-081218...
 
Description Presentation to Understanding Insurgencies workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I presented early-research from the Colombia River Stories project to the research consortium Understanding Insurgencies (approx. 20 academics and practitioners). This resulted in new contacts for the project and an invitation to join the consortium.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://understandinginsurgencies.exeter.ac.uk/tag/glasgow/
 
Description Press release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact A press release and short article on the project were developed with our partner SCIAF and published on the University of Glasgow Website and in the Scottish newspaper, The National
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/news/peopleprojects/headline_604768_en.html
 
Description Project Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Blog for the School of Geography, University of Nottingham
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/geography/2018/08/28/the-real-rumble-in-the-jungle-violence-conflict-g...
 
Description Project Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Project website www.chocoriverstories.org
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL http://www.chocoriverstories.org
 
Description Publication of Colombia River Stories Letter to Minister for Environment, Colombia, on ABColombia webiste 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The Colombia River Studies team wrote a letter to the Colombian Minister of the Environment, Luis Gilberto Murillo, regarding the situation in the Atrato River in Chocó. In the letter, four key questions around the approach and methods that underpin the Environmental Action Plan were identified, and suggestions on how to improve on these were outlined, highlighting the need to ensure that experiences and lessons learned from previous similar projects will be considered in efforts to devise an effective plan and avoiding possible pitfalls.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.abcolombia.org.uk/colombia-river-stories-letter-to-minister-murillo/
 
Description SCIAF blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I collaborated with Mo Hume on a blog for SCIAF raising awareness of the human rights crisis in Chocó and the research project. The blog has been shared on the social media channels of the project and SCIAF.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.sciaf.org.uk/news/278-the-struggle-for-human-rights-in-choco-colombia
 
Description Seminario Internacional sobre dinámicas socio-ambientales de los ecosistemas del Chocó biogeográfico 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 100 people - students, civil society representatives, local community leaders, national academic experts and research teams - attended the first international seminar on socio-environmental dynamics of the ecosystems of Chocó, at which there was a formal launch of the Colombia River Stores Project.
PI Hume and Co-I Teeuw presented research project overview and some initial findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.utch.edu.co/portal/es/noticias/2012-la-utch-desarrolló-conversatorio-sobre-sobre-dinámic...
 
Description UTCH Limnology Research Group - Citizen Science Discussion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The UTCH Limnology Research Group attended a discussion exploring how citizen science could be used to monitor river function. This sparked debate around the opportunities and barriers to citizen science in Choco communities and the exchange of experiences of working with communities to undertake environmental monitoring in the Atrato Basin.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019