Landscape disturbances in the Sumapaz páramo area during and after the Colombian armed conflict



Publication Date

August 2022


The Sumapaz páramo has been widely studied for its high supply of goods and ecosystem services provided to Bogotá, the central Colombian region and for its role as an ecological network linking the foothills rainforest of the Orinoquia and Amazonas with the montane forest of the Andean highlands. Sumapaz is the largest páramo in the world, with 333.420 ha; it is in Colombia's eastern Andean mountain range between 3,250 to 4,230 m.a.s.l. The landscape comprises a wide range of ecosystems, from the páramo and sub-páramo with montane forests, shrubs forests, and peatlands until the super-páramo of alpine tundra landscape with open vegetation of small bushes, frailejones (Espeletia sp) and grasslands. During the Colombian internal armed conflict and due to the strategic location of Sumapaz, the guerrillas found refuge in páramos and high mountains, generating a series of problems that strongly affected the landscape. They developed activities such as the construction of camps, collection and burning of firewood, deforestation and earthworks to build trenches, roads, guard posts, canalization and damming of water. Currently, the landscape disturbances are primarily due to fires, crops or pastures for livestock.

This study presents a qualitative and quantitative assessment linking how disturbance rates are related directly to the conflict intensity data and the geographic location. We identified landscape disturbances, such as degradation and deforestation generated by direct causes such as military confrontations, antipersonnel mines, and trenches, or indirect causes such as crops, mining, livestock, or forced migration. We used Google Engine to perform the Hansen and Coded algorithm to identify these disturbances from 2001 to 2020 using Landsat TM 4-5, Landsat ETM+ 7, and Landsat 8 OLI satellite imagery. We found a noticeable pattern of higher landscape disturbance during the high-intensity conflict period (2001-2012) compared with a decrease in deforestation rates since the peace talks (2012-2016) and post-agreement period (2016-2020). Studies like the ones presented here can become a tool to understand the reasons behind the conflict and its consequences in highly vulnerable landscape networks and ecosystems, such as the páramo.