The number of murders of environmental activists increased in Colombia last year, making it the most risky nation in the world for anyone attempting to defend the environment. Global Witness identified 177 land and environmental defenders who had died in 2022 in its annual report, spanning the Amazon to the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The immense Amazon rainforest, an essential carbon sink that is undergoing severe devastation at a time when the world is struggling to stop climate change, saw 39 fatalities, making Latin America the region that suffered the worst of the murders.
Since a record 227 people were murdered in 2020, the number of fatalities has gradually declined, but “this does not mean that the situation has significantly improved,” according to Global Witness. “The worsening climate crisis and the ever-increasing demand for agricultural commodities, fuel, and minerals will only intensify the pressure on the environment – and those who risk their lives to defend it,” said the London-based watchdog. With 60 fatalities last year, Colombia overtook Mexico as the country with the most murders in 2021, accounting for more than a third of all murders worldwide.
According to the article, “this is almost twice as many killings as in 2021, when 33 defenders lost their lives.” Indigenous people, individuals of Afro-descendant groups, small-scale farmers, and environmental activists made up a large portion of those who were targeted. Three Indigenous children, out of at least five total, were counted globally. “Yet there is hope,” declared the NGO, hailing efforts made by the country’s first socialist president, Gustavo Petro, to increase safety for defenders.
Nadia Umana, a 35-year-old sociologist and activist from Colombia, abandoned her home in the country’s north following the deaths of her four coworkers, all of whom were fighting for the restitution of rural territories taken over by paramilitaries. “Knowing that a colleague of yours was murdered is an indescribable pain,” Ms. Umana told AFP in Bogota.
Even Francia Marquez, the nation’s vice president and recipient of the coveted Goldman Environmental Prize for 2018, has faced several dangers. She was attacked by gunmen in 2019 who wanted to kill her for defending the water supplies in her hometown from mining firms. She managed to survive the attack.