Colombia’s Paramos Under Siege: Unprecedented Wildfires Threaten Vital Water Sources

February 10, 2024: Colombia, renowned for its breathtaking biodiversity, is currently grappling with a dire crisis. The nation has been besieged by over 500 wildfires, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Among the areas hardest hit are the country's highland wetlands, known as paramos. These paramos are not only incredibly diverse and unique ecosystems but also among the fastest evolving on the planet.

Paramos play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance of Colombia and the wider region. They act as natural water towers, storing and regulating water flow, which is vital for agriculture, drinking water, and hydroelectric power generation. Additionally, paramos play a significant role in carbon sequestration, helping mitigate climate change.

However, the intensity of this year's wildfire season has pushed these ecosystems to the brink. The fires have not only caused immense damage to flora and fauna but also threatened the livelihoods of communities dependent on these ecosystems for water and other resources..

The Importance of Paramos

Colombia’s paramos are a natural wonder. These high-altitude wetlands, nestled in the Andes, cover only 1.7 percent of the country’s land area, yet they play an outsized role. Here’s why:

Water Reservoirs: Paramos act as giant sponges, capturing fog and rainwater. Their unique flora, including the iconic frailejones (Seussian-looking plants), store water in their thick trunks. In fact, 85 percent of Colombia’s drinking water comes from these paramos.

Fire Resistance: Historically, paramos resisted wildfires due to their moisture content. But this year, something has changed.

Unprecedented Wildfires

The 2024 wildfire season has been unlike any other. More than 42,000 acres of forest and grasslands have burned across Colombia. The capital city, Bogotá, is shrouded in a pall of polluting smoke. Even the resilient frailejones have fallen victim to the flames.

Climate Change and Human Impact

While humans initially sparked most of the fires, climate-driven factors have exacerbated the situation. Heatwaves and droughts have altered the fire regime. Ancient sediment layers reveal that paramos historically burned once every 100 to 1,000 years. Now, they face yearly infernos.

Urgent Action Needed

Colombia’s government has declared a disaster, seeking international assistance to combat the wildfires. But we can all contribute:

Raise Awareness: Spread the word about the paramos’ plight. Educate others on their ecological significance.

Support Conservation Efforts: Organizations like the Committee for Defense of Water and the Santurbán Páramo are fighting to protect these vital ecosystems. Consider supporting their cause.

Climate Action: Address climate change to prevent further exacerbation of wildfire risks.

Colombia’s paramos are under siege, but with collective effort, we can safeguard these precious water sources for generations to come. Let’s act now, before it’s too late.


Colombia declares a disaster because of wildfires and asks for international help.

Protecting Colombia’s Santurbán Páramo.

Unprecedented Fire Season Has Raged Through One of Earth’s Biodiversity Hotspots.

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