The Foundation for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development in Colombian Communities, FERDESCOL, is a nonprofit organization recently created in Colombia – with the support of Market Analysis Ltd and Baker & McKenzie S.A.S. – to promote renewable energy and sustainable development projects in remote Colombian communities. Despite Colombia’s emergence as one of Latin America’s most robust economies over the past decade, numerous rural areas remain undeveloped and bereft of basic infrastructure. Many communities have seen their opportunities for economic development stunted by being far from Colombia’s major population centres, and have been isolated by decades of armed conflict.
At present some 470,000 Colombian households lack access to basic services such as electricity and reliable supplies of clean drinking water. Of these, 432,000 are in rural areas. Colombia thus has thousands of relatively isolated communities with limited or no access to conventional sources of energy. This typically means that they lack the means to desalinize or purify drinking water, and limits access to information and educational technologies such as computers and mobile phones. Lack of these basic services severely limits the prospects for poverty reduction and economic development.
In 2012 we studied the potential for the private development of wind power in Colombia for the British Foreign Office’s Latin America Prosperity Fund. In the course of this investigation we visited a number of such communities in Colombia’s northern Guajira department where the potential for small-scale wind and solar energy is enormous. These indigenous Wayuu communities also have tremendous opportunities to develop eco-tourism projects, based on the stunning natural beauty of the area and the abundance of wildlife.
FERDESCOL’s aim is to tackle these problems by first addressing basic community needs using solar and wind technology to provide reliable sources of energy and safe drinking water. Our longer-term goal is to work with these communities in economic development and poverty reduction, particularly in eco-tourism which has experienced explosive growth in other Latin American countries during the past decade. Such projects are often small-scale and community-based, requiring relatively small up-front investments.
A pilot project has been identified in a small community of 20-25 Wayuu families near Rio Hacha in Colombia’s Guajira department. These families live mostly on sea fishing and rearing goats and are cut off from mainland access during the rainy season. Availability of reliable access to electricity, communications technologies and desalinized drinking water will enable the community to develop an eco-tourism project built around the presence of a large flock of flamingos in the area. The potential for this type of project exists in all areas of Colombia.