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Cartagena de Indias Vulnerability Assessment

The ecosystems in Cartagena face several pressures that make them highly vulnerable, diminishing their capacity to cope with the effects of climate change.
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Natural Susceptibility of Cartagena de Indias

The ecosystems in Cartagena face several pressures that make them highly vulnerable, diminishing their capacity to cope with the effects of climate change. The overall susceptibility for sea grasses is high, for mangroves is medium and for beaches it varies from low to high depending on the location. Sea grasses face constant hazards that have resulted in an almost total loss of its coverage area. Given the degradation of this ecosystem and the lack of measures to reduce the pressures affecting it, its recovering capacity is highly susceptible. Among the mangroves in Cartagena, the most threatened are the ones located in the urban areas of Tierra Bombas and the Ciéaga de la Virgen. These mangroves face tremendous pressure as a result of urbanization and human activities. Nevertheless, it is important to consider that efforts to recuperate and regulate the use of mangroves in Cartagena are intended. For beaches, erosion and building expansion are the main pressures affecting their susceptibility making them highly susceptible in some areas of Cartagena.

In general, the ecosystems’ qualities are degraded by unsustainable use and land use conversion processes, and to a lesser extent by water quality and hydrographic processes. Fragmented ecosystems are the most susceptible natural systems in Cartagena. In the study area, natural systems’ susceptibility is directly related to human presence: high susceptibility is mainly the result of the impacts caused by human activities and settlements.

Socio-economic Vulnerability of Cartagena de Indias

The overall socio-economic vulnerability of the urban area in Cartagena is estimated at medium to medium-high level. Neighborhoods located on the southern border of the Ciénaga de la Virgen exhibit high socio-economic vulnerability. The north-western urban area and neighborhoods along Santander Avenue exhibit high and very high vulnerability levels. The neighborhoods close to Chambacu and San Lorenzo lagoons exhibit high and medium-high vulnerability. Finally, the southern area of Tierra Bomba presents medium and medium-high level of vulnerability.

The overall socio-economic vulnerability of the rural area of Cartagena is estimated at a medium to medium-high level. According to the assessment, the population located in the rural area of the Ciénaga de la Virgen presents an overall medium-high socio-economic vulnerability. A similar situation occurs with the population close to La Boquilla. In these areas mainly firewood is used to cook and sanitary services are deficient.

2019 Scenario for Caratgena de Indias

The scenarios described hereafter do not assume to predict what will happen, but are merely descriptions of different possibilities the study areas may face according to their present situation and the way local governments are planning their future development. Scenarios are placed in the year 2019, when the National Vision is to be fulfilled by the present administration.

Despite population and industry growth, the integration of environmental considerations into the development strategies of Cartagena will allow for maintaining and at times reducing the susceptibility of natural systems in this area. Water quality and the integrity of hydrographic processes may improve as proper waste disposal and sewage treatment systems are introduced. This action reduces the pressures placed on mangroves in Cartagena Bay, thus improving the ecosystem’s quality. Despite this, mangroves in the northern area of the Ciénaga de la Virgen will disappear as a result of drainage from urban expansion. The combination of the different indicators calculated for the 2019 scenario show that the overall susceptibility in Cartagena will maintain the current levels: mangroves medium level, sea grasses high level and beaches medium to high level of susceptibility. The achievement of the socio-economic goals established under the Cartagena’s 2019 Vision will contribute towards reducing the overall socio-economic vulnerability of the area from a medium-high to a medium-low level.

2019 Scenario and sea level rise

Cartagena de Indias: SLR levels for 2019 scenario development

Adding to this scenario the effects of a potential low and high SLR, it is possible to see that the areas with higher susceptibility indexes are the more affected ones. In general, a low level of SLR exacerbates erosion processes on beaches impacting natural communities, resources, and services provided by this ecosystem. Mangroves on the other hand, tend to disappear given the absence of available areas for migration mainly due to physical barriers. It is estimated that a low SLR will flood 17.5km2 of beach and 2.23km2 of mangrove areas. A high level of SLR will cause the same effects but in a larger magnitude, flooding 18.6km2 of beach and 13.3km2 of mangrove areas.

A potential SLR could impact the local economy by 1) flooding the beaches that are an important asset for tourism; 2) flooding the road that connects Cartagena with Barranquilla and the interior of the country, isolating the city from a large portion of Colombia; 3) flooding the Perimetral road around the Ciénaga de la Virgen affecting the population located in this area; and 4) flooding the facilities of the ports and interrupting their operations. Moreover, an SLR could also have negative impacts on the cultural heritage of the city by affecting the historical walls and monuments causing a possible collapse of these structures. Finally, flood and erosion processes caused by SLR could also directly affect human settlements causing population displacement and relocation, particularly of settlements located on Tierra Bomba Island.

In general, the value at risk in high vulnerable areas increases due to an improvement of the socio-economic factors. With low SLR the value at loss in urban areas is calculated at 654,127 pesos and with high SLR at 872,226 pesos. Affected population was calculated using a constant population growth. In terms of population, the area most affected by SLR under the Cartagena’s 2019 Vision will be the south of the Ciénaga de la Virgen. It is estimated that with low SLR a total of 60,705 persons will be affected in 2019, and with high SLR a total of 308,558 persons.

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Source text

This article is based on the chapter “Building Capacity in Two Vulnerable Areas of the Colombian Coastal Area” in O’Brien, G., Devisscher, T., O’Keefe, P. (Eds.) (2010) The adaptation continuum: groundwork for the future. Netherlands Climate Assistance Programme (pp. 93-134)

Suggested citation:

Vides, M., Sierra, P., Ariasis, F., Devisscher, T. and Downing, T. E. (2010) Building Capacity in Two Vulnerable Areas of the Colombian Coastal Area. In: O’Brien, G., Devisscher, T., O’Keefe, P. (Eds.) The adaptation continuum: groundwork for the future (pp. 93-134). Saarbrücken, Germany: LAP LAMBERT Academic Pub.

On weADAPT, the Collaborative Platform on Climate Adaptation. (Date information retrieved), from Cartagena de Indias Vulnerability Assessment, 7th December 2011, from

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