Key findings from Colombia NCAP Project

Submitted by Sukaina Bharwani | published 25th Mar 2011 | last updated 13th Jan 2020
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This page describes the key findings of the Colombia NCAP project including: 1) system description of the project sites, 2) vulnerability assessments and scenarios, and 3) sea level rise adaptation measures.

System Description

Case studies: Cartagena de Indias and San Andres de Tumaco

Case studies: Cartagena de Indias and San Andres de Tumaco

The Colombian coastal area is highly vulnerable to sea-level rise (SLR). However, the impacts of SLR may differ between the Caribbean and Pacific coasts and vary from one specific case to another. Cartagena de Indias is located on the Caribbean coast and San Andres de Tumaco on the Pacific coast. These areas were identified as critical areas in the first phase of the NCAP because they revealed the highest capital value at risk due to potential SLR. The different impacts that SLR may have on these two areas are explained by the distinct characteristics of each system.

Cartagena de Indias System Description

San Andres de Tumaco System Description

Vulnerability Assessment

The vulnerability assessment includes the evaluation of the natural systems’ susceptibility and the socio-economic systems’ vulnerability. It is important to consider the results of this assessment in local planning to reduce the associated risks of SLR in the study areas and enhance resilience to current climatic variability and extremes, and consequently to future climate change.

The natural susceptibility of the case studies was calculated considering the following six indicators:

  • Ecosystem coverage
  • Water Quality and Hydrographic processes integrity
  • Ecosystem quality
  • Recovery areas
  • Land-use: habitat conversion
  • Hazards

The socioeconomic vulnerability index is composed by the following indicators:

  • Demographics
  • Economics
  • Natural resources usage
  • Political and institutional
  • Cultural

Socio-economic vulnerability is based on the technical, institutional, economic and cultural ability of society to cope with or prevent impacts to the socio-economic system (Klein & Nicholls, 1999). Socio-economic vulnerability is influenced by the susceptibility of ecosystems and vice versa. It is also influenced by the infrastructure, location, living conditions, governance and social dynamics that define the level of empowerment and access to resources that determine the range of viable options to react to difficult situations (Barnett, 2001).

Cartagena de Indias Vulnerability Assessment

San Andreas de Tumaco Vulnerability Assessment

Adaptation Measures

Generally, adaptive measures to SLR will fall into one of the following three categories: retreat, accommodate or protect. Retreat typically focuses on planning for relocation and emergency management. It involves preventing development in vulnerable areas or planning development in certain areas under the condition to abandon them if necessary. Accommodation measures are based on the principle of not counteracting the migration process of ecosystems caused by SLR. To do so, functional uses of land are adapted allowing for both migration processes and productive activities to continue. Finally, protection measures involve planning and regulation to protect systems from the effects associated with SLR. It is generally recognized that anticipatory and precautionary measures for adaptation are more effective and less costly than forced, last minute emergency adaptation measures.


Using a modified checklist and database to evaluate adaptation measures, a list of measures was generated for both Cartagena and Tumaco. An Adaptation Decision Matrix was then used in workshops with local stakeholders to identify suitable measures for both of the study areas. In specific terms, several adaptation measures consisting of the different adaptation categories described above were proposed for each area.

To prevent the impacts of a potential SLR and cope with the effects, the following adaptation measures were locally proposed for Cartagena:

  • Establishment of a new regulation to design and build housing and infrastructure in general that takes into consideration a potential 1m SLR. For instance, hotels have to be designed with consideration that their ground-floor may flood occasionally.
  • Development of retreat plans for the population settled on beaches with high erosion level such as La Boquilla.
  • Development of an action plan for the protection of shores and roads.
  • Viability study for the construction of artificial reefs located parallel to the coast to reduce wave action on the beach.

San Andreas de Tumaco

In San Andres de Tumaco, the adaptation measures identified with local stakeholders considered the following:

  • Establishment of a new regulation to design and build housing and infrastructure in general that limits construction below 3.4m above sea level. The area below this height has to be designated for conservation of the natural systems. These natural systems will be buffer zones that will protect the infrastructure from a potential SLR. For instance, sand and silt deposits stabilized by mangroves and other natural systems will form a natural dyke serving as a safety zone. If infrastructure is developed close to this limit line (3.4m), additional small-scale measures will have to be implemented.
  • Strengthening of education programs incorporating training on the value of natural deltas and coastal processes.
  • Development of an early warning system and 'safe-zones' to protect the local population in case of natural events such as tsunamis, earthquakes and storm-surges.
  • Action Plan to cope with El Niño events.
  • Development of a research program to study natural coastal processes and the development of adaptation/protection strategies.
  • Development of a land use planning system that incorporates risk zones.

In general terms, six adaptation measures are identified for Cartagena and Tumaco:

Adaptation Measures for Cartagena and Tumaco

Adaptation Measures for Cartagena and Tumaco

A common theme among all the selected measures is the state of the natural systems. Therefore, it was decided to adopt a strategy that considers the recovering and protection of the coastline’s natural systems as an approach that will transverse all measures suggested, regardless of if they are protection, accommodation or retreat measures. To prioritize the identified measures and select the most suitable ones a policy option analysis was conducted for each proposed measure considering the national context. The policy option analysis was carried out considering the following criteria for each alternative:

• effectiveness • efficiency • equity • political feasibility • implementation capacity

Overarching Strategies

As a result of the analysis, three strategies are proposed to prevent the impacts caused by the effects of SLR, and contribute to the objectives of the National Disasters Prevention and Attention Plan, the Environmental National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Oceanic Spaces and the Coastal and Insular Areas of Colombia and its Action Plans. These strategies are:

  1. Integrated SLR-related Risk Management: includes adaptation measures to prevent potential SLR impacts on the coastal area and risk management actions to be incorporated into the territorial organization plans of the departments and municipalities.
  2. Coastal Tourism Development: refers to a tourism development model that incorporates environmental sustainability of coastal ecosystems and services as an essential asset for the development of the sector. This sector will be integrated into the regional economic, social and environmental dynamics.
  3. Research Initiatives and Scientific Development Programs: refers to the establishment of an inter-institutional and interdisciplinary research collaboration group in the country to facilitate and generate research and information of high quality on the subject of climate change and its associated effects on the Colombian coastal areas.


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