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Guardians of the River Atrato

SCIAF has been working in Chocó since 2006, identifying it as the poorest region of Colombia, and one of the regions most affected by conflict. Through our local partners, we work with local Indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and Mestizo rural communities, strengthening their capacity to defend, protect, and make sustainable use of their natural resources.

The River Atrato and the Chocó region in Colombia face many challenges, including environmental and social devastation. The River Atrato is being destroyed by illegal gold mining, and communities are losing their traditional livelihoods as the region’s resources are depleted and degraded. Were working in collaboration with the University of Glasgow to help communities gain legal rights and full access to their ancestral territories, develop plans for the sustainable use of their resources, and implement livelihood projects within their territories.

One such initiative was the River Atrato court ruling from 2016. By working with local communities and organisations, we became aware of the importance of the River Atrato to all the communities within its river basin. This allowed our partners to bring a ground-breaking case to court in Colombia, where the voice of local communities was crucial to ensuring a positive result.

Atrato River - Chocó - Colombia River GuardiansThe court ruled in favour of the River Atrato, granting the river the right to be protected, maintained, conserved and restored alongside the biocultural rights of its riverine communities. The River Atrato is only the third river in the world to be recognised in this way.

Viviana González - River Guardian - Colombia 2022
The River Atrato is now a legal person. Therefore, it needs legal representatives that will speak for it, the same way that parents speak for their children. These representatives are the Guardians of the Atrato.

Viviana González Environmental Lawyer, SIEMBRA

We’re also working to ensure local voices are heard loud and clear within Chocó, and at National and International level, by strengthening leadership skills, helping new leaders find their voice, and adding our voice to the demands and campaigns of local organisations and partners. By forming support committees in each community, we’re working to support and replicate the work of the Guardians, working on community waste management, and educating schoolchildren on issues like the importance of the river and how to protect it.   

This project was led by:

Glasgow university

Supported by:

Scottish funding council logo

Supported by:

Gcrf full colour

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