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A letter to the UK government from the Colombian Collaboratory

As the UK government moves to catastrophically cut Official Development Assistance, our Colombian team explain how ODA funding is helping address pressing development challenges.

27 March 2021

The UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund has enabled international knowledge exchange and interaction through the Water Security Hub. This comes at a crucial political time for us here in Colombia.

The ability to conduct knowledge co-creation and transdisciplinary work aimed at strengthening stakeholders in the territory, is a fundamental need for the water and environmental sectors, which are at the heart of any sustainable development strategy. Our work is crucial to putting water security to the test under real conditions.

Bringing potable water and sanitation into rural vulnerable communities

This process is being developed at different hierarchical levels of the communities; first with the village/rural water supply system, helping them with information, training and concrete methods for the collection of water, storage and distribution; and treatment strategies at both household level and collective systems, respectively. At present, some regional governmental institutions and communities are building an information system on rural water, its condition, availability and requirements in basins and strategic areas for the communities. Community management of rural water supply and associativity is also an ongoing research topic within the Hub and we have been invited to be part of the national board working on policy and regulations for rural water supply and sanitation. This board is led by the Ministry of Housing, City and Territory.

Bringing visibility to the struggles of rural communities during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The past year has proven just how essential water security is to maintain our health and the health of our communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has not had an equal impact on communities around the world. In fact, many marginalized and vulnerable communities in Colombia have endured additional crises exacerbated by conditions of the pandemic, such as food insecurity, unemployment, insufficient healthcare, and intrafamilial abuse and violence. Due to their lack of political representation, the Colombian Collaboratory has carried out virtual events that have given a platform for these voices to be heard and to spread awareness about their struggles and day-to-day hurdles.

Co-creation of knowledge and bidirectional learning alongside community stakeholders

The Colombian Collaboratory considers community stakeholders to be an invaluable part of water security research and implementation. In Southwestern Colombia, with its rich biocultural diversity, our community stakeholders have taught us about the plurality of water values, the multiplicity of realities within territories, and the importance of traditional and local knowledge. Alongside community stakeholders we have developed workshops that integrate western scientific knowledge with traditional and local knowledge to address causes, risks, and potential solutions to water insecurity throughout the Upper Cauca River Basin. Dialogue amongst different knowledge systems is a bidirectional educational process and it is transversal throughout our research that allows for community stakeholders to be actively involved and represented in the research process. We also aim to strengthen community stakeholders’ participation in the decision-making process at local, regional, and national levels.

Celebrating the contributions of women for water security

In the Upper Cauca River Basin, women are crucial in the efforts for water security. From leading educational processes, to water management, to driving social movements, to leadership in government entities, there are many roles women fulfill that often go unnoticed and without recognition. The Colombian Collaboratory is working to shed more light on these contributions and showcase women’s work. For example, digital documentation was recorded of a female-led and majority female participation event of “sowing water”, in which 3,000 native trees were planted in the indigenous reservation of Kisgó, department of Cauca in efforts to increase water production in their territory. Through these activities, women are able to portray their knowledge, their stories, and their work with their own voice and utilize the Water Security Hub’s network to share this with the world. The gender approach for water security in the Hub project is also part of a wider intersectionality dimension that looks at inequity/discrimination/disadvantage due to racial, gender, and social class categories.

Addressing climate change and food insecurity through water security research

Water security is the basis of socio-ecological wellbeing and for the Colombian Collaboratory, there has been a direct connection to addressing climate change, climate variability, and food insecurity throughout the Upper Cauca River Basin. Through remote sensing we have been able to map hydrological areas impacted by climate variability and extreme climate events. Being an agrarian region, the Upper Cauca River basin depends on water for economic and food security and the Colombian Collaboratory has analysed the interdependence of these systems. Because of the work being done in the Water Security Hub, further Colombian funding has been secured and added to investigate further the relationship between water resources, economic systems, and food security and sovereignty.

Educational training at the postgraduate level

The Hub project is supporting some of the research processes that doctoral students carry out with funds from the Colombian state that contribute to the realization of water security in the basin. Thus, knowledge co-creation and research training under real conditions is a highly formative process for those involved in the project.

We strongly believe that current commitments with the stakeholders in the Upper Cauca River Basin must be kept in order to fulfil the outcomes and expectations set up right at the beginning of the project.


  • Prof Apolinar Figueroa Casas, Ciencias Ambientales, Universidad del Cauca
  • Prof Miguel  R. Peña Varón, Ciencias Ambientales e Ingeniería, Universidad del Valle
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