La Salvajina: The social and ecological impact of a dam

The Association for Social Research and Action (NOMADESC) is researching the hydro-electric dam of La Salvajina and its social, economical and environmental impact.

The dam is located in the southwest of Colombia, in the north-eastern of the department of Cauca, in the municipalities of Morales, Suarez and Buenos Aires. It was built on the river Cauca in the 1980s. According to a study by Erika Gonzalez, it flooded 2,124 hectares of land belonging to afro-descendant, indigenous and farming communities.[1]

The Salvajina Dam’s history is ambivalent. On the one hand, it was built to generate electricity and mitigate flooding and drought in the Cauca Valley. On the other hand, it severely affected the communities who live nearby, resulting in displacement, insecurity, reduced mobility and local inhabitants losing control of their lands.[2] The communities of the indigenous reservations of Honduras (in the municipality of Morales) and Cerro Tijeras (in the municipality of Suarez ) who live in vicinity of the dam have been affected by its construction. Research by Nomadesc in 2003 into the effects of the dam, details 125 incidents of negation socialand environmental consequences.[3]

“The communities’ livelihoods depended on fishing and biodiversity. This all ended with the flooding. (…) What they did to nature, and to the indigenous, afro-descendant and farming communities who live in this region was genuinely barbaric”, comments Berenice Celeita (NOMADESC).

In 2014, the Constitutional Court emitted sentence T/462A in which it found in favour of the communities, and their right to prior, free and informed consent, free movement, health and education, and ordered the national and departmental government, and the company which manages La Salvajina, to implement measures to mitigate the social and ecological impact generated by the project.[4]

In 2015, the company still had not complied with these measures, and on 11 October of the same year an elder from the Cerro Tijeras indigenous community was murdered. His son, the leader Eider Flor, voiced demands for the sentence to be complied with, which led to him and his family receiving threats.[5]

In Suarez, the prior consultation of the Cerro Tijeras community on the Environmental and Social plan was completed. In November 2016, the government bodies and the company, Empresa de Energia del Pacifico, agreed with the local inhabitants to set up a fish farm and productive projects, and improve the roads and river transportation near La Salvajina dam.[6]


[1] Érika González: Impacto sobre el medioambiente en el suroccidente de Colombia. In: Bajo el Foco – Unión Fenosa: Los impactos de la multinacional eléctrica en Colombia. Observatorio de Multinacionales en América Latina y Paz con Dignidad, February 2008
[2] El Espectador: Brisas: un ejemplo de resistencia en las comunidades negras del Cauca, 2 September 2016; Blog Represa Salvajina: Problematicas de la Represa la Salvajina: Consecuencias, November 2010
[3] Interview with Berenice Celeita, May 2011
[4] Omal: Colombia: Corte Constitucional reconoce los impactos del embalse de Salvajina, 4 November 2014
[5] Business & Human Rights Resource Centre: Colombia: Campaña por comunidad amenazada por denunciar incumplimiento de sentencia judicial contra Epsa en la represa La Salvajina; un indígena asesinado, 28 October 2015
[6] Ovidio Hoyos: En Suárez: Adelantaron consulta previa, 28 November 2016

*Cover photograph: Nomadesc

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