San Vicente del Caguán, Colombia’s #1 deforestation hotspot

Oscar Bautista

Terra-i numbers point to San Vicente del Caguán as first in the list of municipalities with highest deforestation rates in Colombia. Will it also be on top of the list of priorities to achieve the commitments made by Colombia during the COP 21?

San Vicente del Caguan river.

San Vicente del Caguan is a municipality located in the southeast of Colombia that belongs to Caquetá department. Encompassing an area of nearly 1.8 millions hectares, its population reached 67.994 inhabitants in 2010, over two thirds of which are rural.  Located 150 Km away from Florencia, the capital city of the department, this municipality has been one of the most seriously affected by the Colombian armed conflict.

In a project to evaluate ecosystems services in the Colombian Amazon, we mapped key zones for water availability and human footprint, and how those areas are affected by deforestation. For this purpose WaterWorld ( -- A tool developed by King's College London with the lead of Dr. Mark Mulligan -- was used to better understand of hydrological resources, hydrological processes and the risk assessment due to changes in land use, among others [2]. This policy support system is based on the FIESTA Model (Fog Interception for the Enhancement of Streamflow in Tropical Areas) [1].

The frequent loss of forest increases flood risks. Furthermore, it can result in sudden shifts in river flow, generating high discharge due to rainfall [3].  The degradation of land cover can also directly affect water quality [4].
Water availability is the water volume that is produced, and results from the balance between rainfall and evaporation. Figure 1 shows that zones of high water availability have been recurrently affected by loss of vegetation cover. 33.6% of Terra-i detections are located in zones where water availability is high, corresponding to a deforested area of 20.387 hectares. This implies a future impact on water regulation and also on the water flows to urban centers, in addition to the impact that deforestation can cause on other activities such as irrigation.

Figure 1. Terra-i detections map (January 2004 - July 2015), and water availability for San Vicente del Caguan.

Terra-i data (Figure 2) shows a total of 60.625 hectares of natural cover loss between 2004 and 2015 in the municipality, indicating an annual rate of cover loss in the period mentioned of 0.26%, the highest rate among all municipalities of Colombia.[1]  The highest deforestation peak was reached in 2013, with an approximately 22.800 hectares registered as lost. Later years have shown decreasing deforestation, trends that should be maintained.

Figure 2.Annual deforestation with focus in areas with high water availability

Figures 2 and 3 also display the evolution of cover loss per year, focusing on the areas lost inside zones with high water availability. The area of high water availability has an extension of 312.080 hectares, with 6.5% of this area having been deforested since 2004. By 2008, 8.868 hectares were deforested, with 4.850 hectares of this area inside high hydrological availability zones. This latest period suffered deforestation in affected areas that are important for water provision. Furthermore, Figure 3 exposes how a large part of deforestation occurs inside key areas for water supply.

Figure 3. Percentage of deforested area inside the areas of high water Availability.

Water quality is also affected by human activities such as deforestation. In the map below (Figure 4) high values of affected water quality are seen in the Amazonian Piedmont, as well as in areas presenting high deforestation rates.

Figure 4. Human footprint on water quality

San Vicente del Caguan is a municipality that provides substantial water ecosystem service. However, as observed in the previous figures, deforestation and water pollution in rural areas are affecting its natural capital considerably. It is important to take actions that help to mitigate deforestation and to lessen environmental impacts of land use change in this municipality.
Several weeks ago, during the COP21 held in Paris, Colombia committed to reducing deforestation to 0 by 2030. This very important challenge comes with other initiatives that aim to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services, including initiatives are to establish 3,5 million hectares of new protected areas. Furthermore, Norway, Germany and the United Kingdom promised nearly US$100 million to Colombia, to reduce deforestation and degradation of the Amazon. Therefore, the future for San Vicente del Caguan and in general for the Colombian Amazon seems to be promising.


1.    Mulligan, M., and Burke, S. (2005). FIESTA Fog Interception for the Enhancement of Streamflow in Tropical Areas. Technical Report for AMBIOTEK contribution to DfID FRP R7991. [Online] Available at:
2.    Mulligan, M. (2013) SimTerra: A consistent global gridded database of environmental properties for spatial modelling. [basado en Sexton, J. O., Song, X.-P., Feng, M., Noojipady, P., Anand, A., Huang, C., Kim, D.-H., Collins, K.M., Channan, S., DiMiceli, C., Townshend, J.R.G. (2013). Global, 30-m resolution continuous fields of tree cover: Landsat-based rescaling of MODIS Vegetation Continuous Fields with lidar-based estimates of error. International Journal of Digital Earth.
3.    Bruijnzeel, L.A., Mulligan, M. and Scatena, F.S (2010) Hydrometeorology of tropical montane cloud forests: Emerging patterns.  Hydrological Processes. 25:3 465-498.
4.    Frank O. Masese, Phillip O. Raburu, Benjamin N. Mwasi and Lazare Etiegni (2012). Effects of Deforestation on Water Resources: Integrating Science and Community Perspectives in the Sondu-Miriu River Basin, Kenya, New Advances and Contributions to Forestry Research, Dr. Dr. Andrew A. Oteng-Amoako (Ed.), ISBN: 978- 953-51-0529-9, InTech.

Blog post by: Oscar Bautista (Terra-i CIAT) and Jairo Guerrero (Ecosystem and Earth Observation Analyst, WWF - Colombia), Map and Figures edition by Bernadette Menzinger (Terra-i CIAT).

English version prepared with help of Glenn Hyman (CIAT).

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