It is a beautiful city of about 600,000 inhabitants facing the Caribbean Sea and at the foot of the beautiful Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Tayrona Natural Parks, refuge, home and sanctuary of the Arhuaco, Kogis, Wiwas and Kankuamos people.
In recent years, given the environmental degradation affecting many parts of the world, the region has decided to focus on factors that affect climate change. Environmentalist Patricia Caicedo Omar is responsible for changing the course of decisions that can have a positive impact on the well-being of the people and their lands in northern Colombia.
Until a month ago she was the director of the city’s environmental sustainability agency (Dadsa) and is now responsible for the city’s public services and waste management, with the aim of making Santa Marta the most environmentally sustainable city in the country. To achieve this, the inclusion of the environmental chair in the city’s schools was approved as public policy, on the premise that the new generations are environmentalists.
“The most important change that the city has undergone in terms of the environment is the engagement of the people. For example, before trees were felled and no one said anything. Not now. They know it’s not possible, ”says Patricia Caicedo Omar.
With this in mind, intensive reforestation began at the end of 2020 in neighborhoods and districts with clear deficits and the creation of urban forest. “My bet is to adapt the city to climate change, so we keep planting trees,” she says, pointing out that satellites have been used to create a heat map to prioritize. The original goal was 10,000 trees to mitigate the effects of climate change. Today there are over 14,000 in a task in which municipalities, the state and the private sector are involved. 30,000 are expected to be planted between 2020 and 2023. 28 species of native fruit and fruit trees have been planted.
“No to single-use plastic”
But the choices also affect the daily life of Samarios (as the people of Santa Marta are called), business people, and tourists. In 2018, single-use plastics and expanded polystyrene, which are widespread in the city and the rest of the country, were banned. Santa Marta was the first Colombian city to declare war on this type of pollutant.
“Plastic consumption in the city must be reduced to a minimum. But in the end the big controversy and the work lies with the producers, not the end users. The end user on such a networked planet is the one who is pushing for the production model to change, ”says the environmentalist.
According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), there will be “more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, unless people do without disposable items made from this material such as bags and bottles”.
Patricia Caicedo warns that large areas, restaurants and the community in Santa Marta are making progress to make the ban go smoothly. “We work with the shopkeepers, but also with those who sell them the plastic. The idea is to promote other environmentally friendly materials, ”she adds.
The work was not easy, but there were phases for the full implementation of the measure. The first phase was raising awareness while trading shifted the stock. Then came the educational phase with symbolic sanctions and now the sanctions are firm. “At the same time, we sponsored a project with women so that it would be them who would make bags out of fabric or other materials to sell to suppliers.”
At the same time, days have been spent cleaning beaches, rivers and creeks where large amounts of plastic and other materials end up. For example, it rose from 23 tonnes of solid waste in 2017 to 177.2 tonnes in 2020. Work was also being carried out on the reuse of plastics, with an average of 58 tonnes in 2018 and 145 tonnes in 2020.