Wetlands and Human Well-being

Poverty indicators

Eduardo Andrés Cadena-MarínInstituto Alexander von Humboldt Jimena Cortés-DuqueInstituto Alexander von Humboldt
Major economic activities and human well-being variables.
Source: ANH (2013), ANLA (2013), AUNAP (2013), and DANE (2015)
Municipalities with wetlands in 30% or more of their territory

All the actions directed towards preventing the loss of wetlands and encouraging research and conservation in these areas will contribute to ensuring the supply of vital ecosystem services. These actions will also assist the mitigation of existing poverty in the communities that depend on wetlands.

Decreasing forms of subsistence and increasing poverty, especially in the most vulnerable sectors of society,

are, in a large part, the result of ecosystem degradation. Such is the case of wetland ecosystems1, where in most cases water dynamics determine the economy of the region. This dependence is remarkably evident in countries under continuous transformation where the progressing extraction of natural resources intensifies conditions of poverty2.

In wetlands, the characteristics that allow the ecosystem to function as a sole unit, also determine the vital, dynamic, and interdependent relationships that exist with its inhabitants3. Hence, the human well-being of communities that live in wetlands directly depends on the ecosystem's ecological conditions, levels of degradation, and social guarantees of conservation4.

The goods and services provided by wetlands benefit communities in ways that allow for the preservation of their ways of life; wetlands offer benefits for fishing, agriculture, housing, and culture, among others. These benefits also support sustenance, development, and human well-being at local, regional, and national levels5.

According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)6 62% of the Colombian population lives in poverty or misery, which are conditions linked to development and well-being. In the municipalities with wetlands1 that cover 30% or more of their territory, the same index stretches to 75%. These 282 municipalities, where 16 million people live, base their economy on fishing, agriculture, cattle raising, and mining. Therefore their productive activities are based upon the primary sector of the economy, which is equivalent to 35% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)6. of the country. These municipalities are also those with the highest rates of illiteracy and school dropouts, and have numerous cases of malaria, gastroenteritis, dengue, and infant mortality.

Such conditions could be directly related to aspects such as the degradation of wetland ecosystems, increasing diseases due to the poor quality of water, reduced fishing yields, increasing malnutrition indexes, sedimentation, loss of biodiversity, changes in water cycles, resource overexploitation, and changes in soil use. All of these factors directly or indirectly affect the supply of cultural, provision, and regulation services offered by the ecosystem.

The quality of life of these populations, along with their acting capacity in the need of conserving wetlands and ensuring related benefits, are affected by the profound ignorance about the opportunities and advantages that a healthy ecosystem offers. Thus, encouraging management and governance strategies that appreciate the relationship of development and community well-being with the provision and regulation services of the ecosystem will highlight, to an even greater extent, the importance of wetlands. The value of wetlands not only resides in their cultural and biological heritage but also derives from their contribution to the development of the country's economy.


114.091.490 ha

40.435.705 ha


1122 municipios

284 municipios


47.661.787 inhabitants

16.734.228 inhabitants

Infant mortality

35 of a thousand children under one year old

40 of a thousand children under one year old

Cases of dengue

148 cases (annual average)

259 cases (annual average)


17% of persons over 15 years old

15% of persons over 15 years old

School dropout

9 students in a thousand

11 students in a thousand

Freshwater fishing

25.229 t

15.526 t


346.668 planted ha

97.533 planted ha


14.300.000 planted ha

5.287.594 planted ha


21.248.360 heads

9.659.091 heads

Mining and hydrocarbons

28.384.798 ha used

10.797.894 ha used

From 2001 to 2011 deaths related to infectious intestinal, parasitic, and stomach diseases increased by 34% in the 284 municipalities analyzed.

The average fishing yield in 1995-2005 for the basin of the Magdalena River was 10 tons, whereas in 2005-2012 the average was 6 tons.

The large areas dedicated to cultivating rice, oil palm, sugarcane, and grass for cattle have increased by 38% in the last decade.

Municipalities with wetlands in 30% or more of their territory and MPI
2.000.001 to 8.000.000
1.000.001 to 2.000.000
750.001 to 1.000.000
500.001 to 750.000
250.001 to 500.000
100.001 to 250.000
50.001 to 100.000
25.001 to 50.000
10.001 to 25.000
0 to 10.000