The majestic Andes Mountains give birth to many life-giving rivers, including Colombia’s Magdalena River and the Peruvian headwaters of the Amazon. The Magdalena is the fifth-largest river basin in South America, flowing for almost a thousand miles from the Andes to the Caribbean.

It’s home to many diverse ecosystems including forest, mountains, valleys, wetlands and ocean, and supports 2,735 species of animals, many of which are endemic to the region. Over 120,000 people depend directly on the river for fishing and agriculture.

A woman walking into a dense area of greenery, looking back at the camera.
An Ashaninka women walks in the forests near Tsiquireni, few kilometers below Pakitzapango. Ene River, Peru. April 2012. | Photo by: Tomas Munita.

To the south of the Magdalena, major Peruvian rivers such as the Marañón, Huallaga and Ucayali (representing roughly 60% of Peru’s national territory) form the headwaters of the Amazon. The vast tropical forests sustain bountiful fisheries, diverse wildlife, and the livelihoods of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. 

Both the Peruvian and Colombian governments have extensive plans to dam these rivers. The good news is that local opposition to proposed hydropower projects has been strong, and it’s had notable successes, including the suspension or cancellation of key projects like the Pakitzapango and Inambari Dams. But there’s more to do.

Our Work in the Andes

In order to protect these precious rivers and their communities, we must uplift community governance, indigenous sovereignty and gender equity and enable a just transition to a low-carbon energy future. The dams particularly threaten women and indigenous peoples, two groups that have participated for centuries in the preservation of these vital watersheds.

Both rivers are key carbon sinks, and millions depend on their waters for their livelihoods. We are working with communities to defend their rivers and rights, and together we’re exploring the possibilities for permanent river protection.

Related Resources

The Colombian community of La Jagua, threatened by the El Quimbo Dam, painted a series of murals depicting their opposition to the project and their hopes for a better future (2013).
“What Does the Magdalena River Mean to You?”, International Rivers (2015)

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