Peace in the peaks? Changes in water and land distribution in Colombia’s southern highlands during the Post-Peace Agreement phase

Governance of environmental resources plays a key role in enhancing or hindering progress towards peace in post-conflict societies. Two years after the signing of the Peace Agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of Colombia, new dynamics on natural resource and land-use are leading to environmental harm in some regions. Highlands and páramo (high-elevation tropical alpine area) ecosystems, which supply 70% of the country’s freshwater, are undergoing socio-environmental changes during this period. Yet, there is little understanding on how this transition occurs.

The thesis investigates the experiences of local actors in relation to the access and control of environmental resources in a once guerilla-controlled area in the village of Combia, located in the buffer zone of the Las Hermosas páramo complex in the southwest of the country. I found that the transition from the social order under FARC control to a State-regulated phase led to an interplay of new actors and new authority figures which reconfigured local land distribution and water control.

In the case of Combia, this shift of power reinforces unequal access to land and water for people without land ownership, which has been the core issue in Colombia’s protracted armed conflict. I discuss the uneven consequences for local actors when the State legal water concessions clash with the slow pace of rural land property rights reforms. Consequently, I explain how water institutions for highland regions can benefit from a more community-based governance approach in societies that transition towards peace.