Fishermen who make their living from the Cauca River in the south of Colombia have had their daily task made easier by adapting their traditional rafts to solar power.

That is just one of the concrete sustainable actions enabled by Pacto Planeta(link is external), a civil society organization designing, implementing and tracking high impact social and environmental projects in 12 provinces in Colombia. Its main goal is to help organizations with environmental projects to maximise their impact.

The project works closely with School Laboratories for Sustainable Development (LEDS) and has three main action areas: environment and climate change, designing pedagogical notebooks to learn maths and English with exercises based around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and, training of teachers.

The LEDS scheme helps schools in socially vulnerable populations by teaching students about the six SDGs relating to climate change, food security, gender equality and health. This is done through one-year voluntary programmes that include building educational spaces within schools which act as laboratories for learning about the SDGs, building community gardens, classrooms with low cost ecology construction techniques, solar plants, compost systems and improving communal spaces with murals which are also directed to inspire girls particularly to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Catering for a variety of needs

Project Manager Christhian Verdugo said: ‘We work with a huge variety of different communities, urban and rural, including different ethnic groups, indigenous people, and populations who have suffered violence and displacement.”

‘Everyone’s needs are different. In Bogota, we have many people who have fled guerrilla conflict to restart their lives and need employment. In urban areas, the need might be for sustainable agriculture or we might teach people how to turn garbage into ecobricks for fuel. In particularly arid regions like Cartagena where there is little soil, hydroponic growing can make an enormous difference. Indigenous communities may suffer social issues like food insecurity.’

Since its inception, Pacto Planeta has taken part in more than 350 corporate volunteer activities in 12 provinces of Colombia working with communities, teachers, students from early childhood and their parents. It also participated in two UN Youth Assemblies in New York.

The LEDS project is currently financed by private business and the plan for 2018 is to secure funding from large business foundations. By 2020, Pacto Planeta will be present in 20 % of public schools in Colombia and is already looking to expand.

‘Last year I was in the UN Assembly and shared our work with many Guatemalan friends and colleagues who have the same vision. Many of the problems and social issues they are facing are the same as in Colombia. We plan to spread the work we are doing here to Guatemala where there are already similar projects.’

For Christhian, the greatest challenge remains convincing people whose lives have been scarred by conflict to believe in sustainable development values.

‘The easiest to convince are children and young people who are open and responsive to the work that is needed to be done to reach the targets of the SDGs,” he said.

Children who have taken part in growing their own gardens or managing water wisely easily take up leadership roles in their local environments and become adults who promote sustainable solutions.

‘The remaining challenge is to convince the 30 to 40-year-olds who are poor and living in areas which have suffered from guerrilla conflict. They are suspicious about everything,’ Christhian said.

And there is a need to prepare for the future.

‘The end of the conflict in several regions of Colombia will lead to the creation of new population centres and the development of small economic centres, which is why new generations living in these regions should be made aware of sustainable alternatives for developing their communities in post-conflict scenarios,’ he said


Source: UNICEF

The New Year is upon us and the January editorial is always one of the most difficult, as getting back into a writing mode after the Christmas holiday requires plenty of stamina. But Colombians are a resilient lot having dealt with the vicissitudes of 2017, from tax reform to a post-conflict.

This year will be marked by presidential elections and a decisive – if not divisive – moment for all. Even though it is too premature to make predictions, as the race officially gets underway January 27 when all candidates are required to register, a handful of experienced politicians have announced their intention to run, but have not come forward with clear platforms as to where they would lead this country if elected on May 27. And should no candidate clinch the first round, a presidential run-off is scheduled for June 17.

Democratic change is looming on the horizon, and if there is one issue that will mark the 2018 presidential race is the future of the Final Accord with FARC. Besides Humberto de la Calle who led the peace team in Havana and Sergio Fajardo, German Vargas has been vocal with his “No” stance on an agreement that was put to Colombians in a 2016 nationwide plebiscite.

Former presidents Álvaro Uribe Vélez and Andrés Pastrana are hammering out options for an official candidate for their Despierta Colombia alliance. Former Minister of Defense Marta Lucía Ramírez is Pastrana’s choice, but the ultra-conservative ex-Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordóñez believes his name should also be included in this conservative coalition.

With just over four months before the first round, the candidates on the “No” camp will have to  justify to the Colombian electorate how they would make amends to the peace process with FARC; and a demobilized group firmly entrenched as a political party. FARC are not immune to the political climate and should they feel out-manoeuvred in these historic post-conflict elections, they could consider breaking away from politics all together and make a return to the mountains where the insurgency began.

By the time Colombians head to the ballot, it will almost be two years since the government of Juan Manuel Santos signed the peace process with FARC. Too much has been gained in the search for peace, despite an imperfect implementation of the post-conflict. But the post-conflict is what needs to be addressed – not the Final Accord.

Source: The City Paper Bogota

On the second day of an official visit to Colombia, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday expressed hopes for the future and for the peace process in the South American country.

“I am extremely happy to see the enthusiasm and commitment of the authorities, of the communities, and of the ex-combatants to the process of peace building in Colombia,” Mr. Guterres said in a statement to the press from Mesetas, Meta, where he visited a territorial area for the training and reintegration of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) combatants.

“I had the opportunity to visit a FARC camp and to see the ex-combatants build their future and develop new activities – activities of peace – with great enthusiasm,” he said.

Mr. Guterres said that “the communities also believe that it is possible for this region to achieve not only peace, but also prosperity and good living conditions for all its inhabitants” and that the Colombian Government will play a key role in providing the security, administration, healthcare system and infrastructures they need, and in helping the local farmers get better access to the market

Source: United Nations News Centre