BOGOTÁ — Colombia's more than half-century old civil war has been, if nothing else, an environmental calamity.
Besides causing tens of thousands of deaths and forcing millions from their homes, the protracted fighting between state forces, left-wing guerrilla forces and right-wing gangs has led to massive amounts of crude oil being poured into the country's rivers, streams and wetlands.
Data released by the oil industry suggests that over the past 30 years, some 4 million barrels of crude have been dumped in Colombia. That's 10 times the amount the infamous Exxon Valdez tanker released off the coast of Alaska in 1989.
Unlike the Exxon Valdez disaster, considered the second worst oil spill in history, the crude dumped in Colombia wasn't a single catastrophe, but something that has been repeated, little by little, over decades. The spills, furthermore, involve narrow waterways of the tropical rainforest, an environment that is arguably more vulnerable than the vast ocean.
The environmental impact of this senseless conflict should make us reflect as a society. Oil pouring into rivers and wetlands and their surrounding ecosystems, and the massive fish and animal deaths this provokes, is bad enough. More appalling still are incidents like the one that took place June 22, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) attacked the Transandino pipeline, causing a massive spill into the Mira river, near Ecuador's frontier, that impacts the livelihoods of natives living in this area and on water supplies to local towns.
The FARC say they have instructed their men not to touch waterways? Poppycock. Words can barely convey one's outrage at the attack. Nevertheless, overall reactions have been less intense than they should be. As often happens, outrage is tempered by a relative lack of information. People are also prone to being misled toward a political agenda instead of focusing on the harm done to nature and people.
Enormous efforts are being made right now to clean up the the Mira. But only so much can really be done in these cases. People don't like to admit it, but the effects of such disasters will be felt far into the future.
One cannot accept our national heritage being exposed this way, in line with tactical needs. When we hear people speak of taking nature out of the conflict, the intention is not to make the conflict more humane or "ecological," but to simply put an end to this military rationale. Because this conflict is not just leaving a legacy of deforestation across millions of hectares. It is also killing rivers and tributaries.
How many decades or centuries will it take for rivers like Mira or Catatumbo to recover their ecological attributes and be safe again for local inhabitants? No doubt the social and environmental effects of this conflict will long outlast the war.
The FARC"s political clumsiness and utter contempt for the fragility of the social and natural environments, which the pope has already described as inseparable, is blatant. Again, words can barely express one's anger.
All we can really hope for now that the peace talks currently underway in Havana, Cuba can progress regardless. Because only peace can stop the continuous destruction and mitigate its effects, at least where the harm can be undone.