Mocoa, Colombia: One Year After the Landslide

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I have been going to Putumayo, Colombia for the last 20 years long before it became a “hotspot” for vision quest seekers and other ayahuasca heads.  I’ve been privileged to go there and closely collaborate with the indigenous communities of the region who- in partnership with ACT- strive to protect their knowledge systems, the traditional uses of their medicine, their culture and more importantly, their forests, rivers, and sacred mountains on which their livelihoods and well-being depend. 

Putumayo is a spectacular and highly biodiverse region with stunning mountains that give birth to the Caquetá and Putumayo Rivers, two of the major headwaters of the Amazon.  The various levels Bajo (Lower)  Medio (Middle) and Alto (high) – the Alto Sibundoy – look like a staircase in which every level is home to unique species not found anywhere else. In fact, the Colombian Piedmont is considered a global conservation priority because of its inordinate diversity.  

This magical land of water and rainforests is a giant water factory, much threatened by reckless development which is poorly planned and badly executed. The indigenous people who make their home have cautioned about deforestation, against building a road that caused enormous damage, resulting in landslides that killed well over a thousand people. Despite repeated warnings that were ignored by “experts,”  on April 1, 2017, a disastrous avalanche destroyed much of the village Mocoa taking with it hundreds of lives mostly children and displacing thousands of families.  This was, as in Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’ title of the book a Chronical of a Death Foretold.

I had not returned to Mocoa since the tragedy but -on March 19th- I was able to visit the devastated town.  The titanic boulders that rolled from on high were said to have created a horrifying sound as they rolled toward to town, unleashing death and devastation.  As I walked through the ruins on a grey, rainy and bleak day, I could sense the terror, the grief and the trauma that still haunts the survivors.  In conversations with some of the residents who had to go back to largely destroyed homes for lack of options, rain, no matter how light, is a frightening reminder of what can happen to them again.  Despite the risks and growing threats of more flash flooding, the inadequate development plans forge ahead paving the way to build roads that will carry many of Putumayo’s precious resources to faraway lands.  The connectivity and the dependence of the lowlands in the Amazon to the highland paramos of Putumayo is ignored as the entire department is declared a mining region.  If we destroy rivers and forests where the Amazon begins, we will only unleash additional misery on the warters, plants, animals and peoples below.  

Liliana Madrigal
Amazon Conservation Team

Senior Director of Program Operations

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