At least one alternative must be selected

Strengthening of community capacities of ex-combatants and rural communities around water and agricultural enterprises


Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey

After the signing of the peace treaty and the laying down of arms, former Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC; Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla fighters arrived in the municipality of La Paz for their socioeconomic reintegration process. They settled in the Territorial Area for Training and Reintegration (TATR) of Tierra Grata, many with non-ex-combatants who came for family reunification and to build a civilian life project. However, this TATR did not have integral public services, including water, for the agricultural projects they were implementing with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) (banana, tomato, bread) and other entities; nor did it have a permanent supply of drinking water for human consumption. The national government (while FAO was developing this project) was still reviewing the issues of land tenure, access to public services, and the permanence of the reintegrated population in the TATR. Therefore, there were no immediate solutions in sight for the highly sensitive issue of their well-being and permanence in the reintegration process.
For years, the rural population of nearby villages such as El Mirador also suffered from water scarcity and difficulties in agricultural ventures and the consumption of drinking water. The impact in terms of food and nutritional security, income generation, and general health, among other things, affected women, men, children, and young people in these neighbouring rural populations. One of them reintegrated people and the other focused on rural victims of the armed conflict.

Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved

FARC's reintegrated population, together with the rural population of El Mirador, chose piping water through hoses for agricultural projects as the community solution to be developed within the framework of the "Socioeconomic Reintegration" project carried out by FAO in this territory and financed by the European Fund for Peace. A Community Management Group, made up of leaders from both the village of El Mirador and ex-combatants, was formed. While FAO provided the basic materials to carry water from a natural source to El Mirador and Tierra Grata's TATR (as well as specialised technical advice on infrastructure and social processes), this group led, organised and managed a broad, and sometimes complex, community process that included institutional and other United Nations (UN) system actors. Community integration work and voluntary work, the implementation of safety and care protocols, and resource governance around this solution were mainly managed by women. This allowed the water to reach El Mirador and the TATR such that it that benefited the different agricultural enterprises to which, through a cooperative, a significant number of people who were reintegrated into their families are associated. The initiative covered 8,800 kilometers, was developed in two months and was dependent on 1,500 volunteer days (days of work per person) by men, women, and youth from both communities.

How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?

This initiative generated positive impacts in different areas. In terms of environmental issues and climate change, the lack of water resources for agricultural projects was resolved. This involved the disposal of water through a simple, harmless system that was built to a high technical standard and did not damage the natural water source. The water supply is free and strengthened the organisational capacity of two rural communities experiencing significant levels of vulnerability. There were existing tensions but at the same time the communities had shared needs, notably, the empowerment of women themselves (some of whom are victims of gender-based violence; GBV) their families, and the communities they represented. The initiative left participating communities with skills for the access, management, and administration of a vital resource. It also contributed to the sustainability of the peace treaty in this complex region and to a clear reconciliation process that involved different actors of the former conflict (the army, victims, and combatants).

What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?

The initiative deals with non-potable water for agricultural use. The consultation process regarding the relevance of this work is documented and included socialisation meetings, community assemblies, and consultation between the community and the group of ex-combatants. Preparing the budget for this work was a collaborative effort, with permanent accountability ensured. During the construction process, visual tools were used to enable all participants to monitor progress and provide evidence of their contributions. The process impacted access to and sustainable management of water resources, conscious water use in agricultural ventures, and the recognition of water conservation in order for these projects to be profitable and long-lasting. A community management and work process was developed and foundations for a water governance process were laid through a plan of use and enjoyment created by the community itself. This plan is subject to ongoing development.

What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?

Thanks to the work of the Community Management Group, this initiative:

  • Integrated two communities linked to the armed conflict: the FARC ex-combatants, and the rural population, among whom were victims of the guerrilla group and the paramilitary.
  • Managed all kinds of resources: economic, material, specialised and non-specialised human talent, goods in kind, time and volunteer work, and support and advice from public institutions and international cooperation. 
  • Designed care and safety protocols, not only due to the technical characteristics of the work but also due to the safety conditions of the territory and the reintegrated population. 

There were significant challenges related to the nature of the work and rivalries between the local and national government to do with public services; dealing with community conflicts due to the tendency towards armed conflict in this area; tensions between the national government and the reintegrated population in the Tierra Grata TATR due to actions agreed upon in the peace treaty and the implementation of the treaty; and the initially high level of vulnerability among female victims of GBV that was positively transformed through this leadership process.

 In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?

There are several factors involved in the sustainability of the initiative, among which are the strengthening of grassroots organisations in reintegrated and rural communities; participatory development of a plan for the use and enjoyment of water through which the communities will carry out processes of water governance, environmental education with children and youth in Tierra Grata’s TATR and El Mirador, and conservation of other related natural resources; training of the region’s reintegrated and rural populations; empowerment of female leaders and societal condemnation of GBV; recognition and easing of tension among participating communities; and a positive relationship with local institutions.
In addition, this process was accompanied by training in project development, providing the Community Management Group with a basis for the design and management of future projects related to this work.

What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?

Strengthening the leadership of the women who developed the water management initiative was a decisive element in carrying out the entire process, as was the fact that they collectively faced GBV. These elements demonstrated the resilience of the women who were involved in the work.  Likewise, the generation of spaces for dialogue, consultation, and constant creation helped to build alternative solutions to the problems that arose daily in the process of consultation and implementation of the work. Assertive and constant communication with institutional and community actors facilitated the relationship with those responsible for implementing the peace treaty. The traceability of the process is testament to its achievements. The community recognises that the initiative is more far-reaching than the physical project implementation and represents a move towards sustainable social cohesion.