Colombia: Water and Life in El Rincon

Colombia’s beauty is unmatched.

Imagine both the appreciation and responsibility of living in a place, which alone is home to nearly 10 percent of the planet's biodiversity and has 314 different types of ecosystems.

This is the heart of Rare’s watershed conservation program: the Colombian Andes. 35 million people rely on these cloud forests, watersheds and páramos for their water. Yet, for many, a dependable clean fresh water supply is a hope, not a reality. In Colombia's Valle del Cauca, the last few years have measured the lowest levels of downstream water flow in history. But the people are resilient and committed to finding solutions.

May 6, 2016

Photojournalist Jason Houston captured the unique relationship between Colombian farmers, governments, and local community members in a stunning photo installation that explores life in the small communities of Valle del Cauca.

Here, for conservation solutions to be enduring, they cannot solely be the domain of the environmental sector. To be impactful and long-lasting, they must be mainstreamed into everyday practices.

In Colombia, to help solve the water problems in Valle del Cauca, we partner with the regional environmental authority Corporación Autonoma Regional del Valle del Cauca (CVC). For the water solutions to be long-lasting, they need to be mainstreamed. Our approach includes downstream water users and institutions voluntarily paying into a fund, which is managed locally. The proceeds are then used to provide incentives, such as fencing, for farmers living upstream to implement farming practices which keep the water cleaner and the water flow more regular.

The benefits are win-win: downstream users have more regular and cleaner water while upstream farmers get compensated for improving their farming practices to help protect the watershed ecosystem. The partnership with CVC helps mainstream the solution and makes it successful by involving public officials, water utility companies, water users and those whose activities affect the water.

Imagine the possibilities if all conservation solutions could be mainstreamed. Imagine the impact for people and nature.

Images by photojournalist Jason Houston