Country Brief: Fragility and Climate Risks - Colombia (March 2019)

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Colombia experiences very high climate exposure concentrated in small portions of the country and high fragility stemming largely from persistent insecurity related to both longstanding and new sources of violence. Colombia’s effective political institutions, welldeveloped social service delivery systems and strong regulatory foundation for economic policy position the state to continue making important progress. Yet, at present, high climate risks in pockets across the country and government mismanagement of those risks have converged to increase Colombians’ vulnerability to humanitarian emergencies. Despite the state’s commitment to address climate risks, the country’s historically high level of violence has strained state capacity to manage those risks, while also contributing directly to people’s vulnerability to climate risks where people displaced by conflict have resettled in high-exposure areas.

This is seen in high-exposure rural areas like Mocoa where the population’s vulnerability to local flooding risks is increased by the influx of displaced Colombians, lack of government regulation to prevent settlement in flood-prone areas and deforestation that has removed natural barriers to flash flooding and mudslides. This is also seen in high-exposure urban areas like Barranquilla, where substantial risks from storm surge and riverine flooding are made worse by limited government planning and responses to address these risks, resulting in extensive economic losses and infrastructure damage each year due to fairly predictable climate risks.

This brief summarizes findings from a broader USAID case study of fragility and climate risks in Colombia (Moran et al. 2018b) and a USAID report on The Intersection of Global Fragility and Climate Risks (Moran et al. 2018a). Key findings from the global report are summarized in the box on the next page.


Fragility Risks: Colombia experiences high overall fragility compared to other countries globally, and in recent years it has faced the greatest fragility of all countries in South America, though that ranking may change as the peace process continues in Colombia and stability deteriorates in Venezuela. Colombia’s fragility stems primarily from poor state effectiveness, particularly in the security and economic spheres. However, Colombia does benefit from strong political and social institutions. Colombia has also made key gains to the rule of law, private property rights and channels for entering the formal economy that have brought Colombia to the best rating globally for economic legitimacy.

Climate Risks: Colombia has nearly 2 million people living in high exposure areas. These include: 1) low-lying coastal zones, particularly around Barranquilla and Cartagena, at risk of storm surges, flash floods and chronic aridity; 2) coastal and inland areas of Chocó, Antioquia and Córdoba departments that face decreased rainfall, riverine flooding and coastal flooding; and 3) pockets of high exposure in Putumayo department in the south that faces flooding and decreased rainfall.

Compound Fragility-Climate Risks: Colombians’ vulnerability in high-exposure places like rural Mocoa—where conflict displacement, unchecked deforestation and unregulated settlement exacerbate flood risks—and coastal Barranquilla—where government response has not mitigated routine flooding—highlight what can happen when climate risks converge with mismanagement of those risks by a government affected by fragility. However, Colombia can draw on its political institutional capacity to adopt—and its social service capacity to implement—policies to reduce the future impact of climate hazards, but this requires addressing aspects of both its fragility and climate challenges.