Water Scarcity and Climate Change in La Guajira: ABColombia signs letter to Cerrejón


ABColombia alongside other international organisations expresses its concerns regarding the situation in La Guajira in North-East Colombia as the coal mining company Carbones del Cerrejón Ltd applies for licenses for the use of water resources in the Ranchería river basin for mining activities. Two letters of concern signed by ABColombia and other organisations across Europe and the US demand a temporary halt to the issuing of these licenses.

Carbones del Cerrejón has applied for three new deep wells within their mining concession, which may create even more water stress and contradicts the affirmation made by Cerrejón that they do not use ground water. Local communities ask that the project is put on hold until they receive the results of a geo-hydrological study ordered by the Constitutional Court.

According to CorpoGuajira, the Ranchería river is known the be the most important source of water in the department of La Guajira, playing a key role in the maintenance of ecosystems in its basin, as well as providing water for domestic, recreational, cultural, spiritual, farming and industrial activities. As of 2016, it is estimated that 450,000 people depend directly and indirectly on the water of the Ranchería river.

Reports produced by Carbones del Cerrejón Ltd note that climate variability has exacerbated water scarcity in the department, which is reflected in a decrease in the availability of both surface and groundwater sources in the Ranchería river basin. In 2014, IDEAM characterised the Guajira peninsula as one of the areas most vulnerable to climate variability in the country, and its high levels of aridity make it one of the regions with the largest water deficit. Several studies point out that coal mining in general, and mining by Carbones del Cerrejón in particular, has accelerated climate change, generated socio-cultural damage, created risks and impacts on health, exploited surface and groundwater supplies.

The Colombian Constitutional Court recently reaffirmed that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is in line with Colombian constitutional law, which upholds the precautionary principle (Sentence C-048/18). This means that measures must be adopted which mitigate or prevent potential damage to the environment.

ABColombia and the other signatories do not believe the request for new licenses by Carbones del Cerrejón Limited is framed in line with corporate due diligence. Furthermore, it is worrying that civil society in La Guajira have no information or knowledge regarding the intended use of the water. It is essential that information such as the volume of water requested, the quality of the water sources to be used, details about the aquifers to be tapped, and information about water levels and responses to climate change by public entities are accessible to civil society in La Guajira, and that they are able to participate in the decision-making on issues that affect their territories.

You can click on the buttons below to read the letters in Spanish. One letter is addressed to the environmental department of the Autonomous Regional Corporation of the Guajira Department (CorpoGuajira), the other one was sent directly to Cerrejón.


The Cerrejón coal mine in La Guajira, North-East Colombia, is one of the largest open-cast coal mines in the world. The mine is situated in the northeastern part of the Ranchería river basin between the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Serranía del Perijá. Since beginning its operations, Carbones del Cerrejón has been accused of violating the human rights of local people including indigenous groups. It is now under the shared ownership of UK registered multinationals, BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Glencore.

The local communities, many of them indigenous and Afro-Colombian, report that they had not been properly consulted on the project and they strongly oppose it.

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