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Q and A with Colombian Army’s Directorate of Ecosystems and Environmental Management

By Dialogo
March 04, 2011

The Armed Forces of Colombia have made an excellent campaign to preserve the environment, especially in the moors and natural parks. Such work I am told is being carried out in the Sumapaz moor, which is two hours from the Colombian capital, where the civilian population is also involved in the endeavor. In this way, they meet goals of bringing the community closer together in jobs oriented towards maintaining the ecosystem. A PERUVIAN ARMY OFFICER SUGGESTS THAT THE CURRENT ORGANIZATION NOMINATE AN ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT DIRECTOR, ONE DOES NOT EXIST AS OF NOW. CONGRATULATIONS FOR THE WORK DONE IN THIS FIELD THAT CONCERNS THE WHOLE WORLD.

The Colombian National Army Command issued its first set of directives on
environmental preservation and conservation in 1998.
Over the next decade, the Army opened environmental offices at the division
and brigade levels, under the Corps of Engineers, to coordinate work effectively
with the national and regional environmental authorities. The offices also were
charged with implementing measures to prevent, mitigate, control and pay
compensation for any adverse effects on environmental resources.
Major General Alejandro Navas Ramos commands the Colombian National Army.
Under his orders the Army continues to implement new environmental strategies.
Staff from the Directorate of Ecosystems and Environmental Management at the
Headquarters for the Army Corp of Military Engineers granted an interview to
“Diálogo” and explained the key role the environmental offices play.

Where does the Directorate of Ecosystems and Environmental Management fit into
the overall structure of the Colombian National Army, and what is the
directorate’s main purpose?

In 2008, the Army issued Order No. 0014, creating the Headquarters for the
Corps of Military Engineers within the Army’s organizational structure. Under
headquarters, the Order created the Directorate of Ecosystems and Environmental
Management, whose purpose is to direct the armed forces’ environmental policies. In
order to conduct its operations, the directorate consists of four areas: ecosystems,
environmental remediation, environmental education, and environmental law.
In addition, the directorate offers training in the following areas, among
others: protection of hydrographic basins and water resources; management of natural
resources; control of illegal traffic in wild species; waste management;
environmental legislation; and strategic ecosystems.

How many environmental management offices does the Colombian National
Army currently have?


Initially, we opened 28 environmental management offices in the brigades.
Today there are offices for eight Divisions, the Aviation Division, the 35 Brigades,
the seven High Mountain Battalions and 28 Army Instruction and Training Battalions.

Why did the Colombian National Army decide to create these specialized
environmental offices?

The idea started as an important institutional policy that was designed to
implement the “2005-2010 Strategic Environmental Plan.”
The goal of that plan was institutional improvement on environmental issues
and to establish mechanisms and actions, uniting all the efforts from different
environmental authorities, in order to develop an efficient management system.

Could you please explain in general terms how the plan was developed?

The plan was developed with a desire to consolidate the environmental culture
existing in the Army, which would cover all levels, educating officers, NCOs,
soldiers and civilians, through academies and training opportunities.
This plan is comprised of two parts. The first part is directed at educating
military personnel and includes training on creating and launching environmental
offices in each unit, as well as training within the unit on our agreement with the
Ministry of Environmental Affairs, Regional Autonomous Bodies, and the National Unit
of Natural Parks.
The second part is to conduct environmental audits that will reveal our
strengths and weaknesses in this area, and to perform the necessary follow-up.
The plan is updated annually through the Armed Forces Action Plan, which
includes and assigns tasks in this area that are carried out not only by the
environmental offices but also with support from other agencies, such as
Comprehensive Action [Acción Integral], Human Rights, Operations, Intelligence and
Logistics.

When will you start to see the first results?

The environmental offices’ initial achievements were reflected in the efforts
to train the soldiers of the High Mountain Battalions.
That training was conducted in conjunction with the Ministry of Environmental
Affairs, National Unit of Natural Parks, and the regional bodies.

What projects are currently most important?

We have developed recycling and reforestation projects under the Armed Forces
agreement with the National Learning Bureau [Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje –
SENA], which has trained more than 150 professional soldiers as technicians to
manage plateaus and cloud forests.
We have also been conducting studies together with the Ministry of
Environmental Affairs to develop a program at the Communication and Directorate for
waste management regarding electronics and electrical appliances [Residuos de
Aparatos Eléctricos y Electrónicos – RAEE] and batteries by implementing reverse
logistics.
This project entered the testing phase in 2010, and in 2011 we hope to be
collecting and disassembling batteries at all military units.

What academic training is provided by this division?

In 2010, we created four certificate programs for 197 members of the military
that covered subjects such as Environmental Management, Environmental Management in
High Mountain Battalions and Training Battalions, and the Operation of Treatment
Plants.
In the same way, the major, minor and tactical operating units have held
education and training sessions in coordination with regional environmental
authorities and the Territorial Directorates of National Natural Parks. This
training has been provided to more than 5,676 persons, including officers, NCOs,
soldiers and civilians through academies, under the aegis of the Directorate of
Ecosystems and Environmental Management at the Headquarters of the Army Corps of
Military Engineers.

Regarding efforts to raise awareness about the environment, what are you doing
to publicize this work abroad?

In October 2010, the National Army held its First International Conference,
“Protecting the Environment and Biodiversity.” The goal was to let the private and
government sectors know about the military’s progress in environmental management,
in addition to different branches of the military, the National Police and national,
regional and local environmental agencies. This created a space for discussing the
role of the National Army in protecting the environment and the sustainable use of
natural resources.
During the conference, we exchanged experiences with guests from the United
States Army, the Brazilian Army, and the Mexican Department of Defense, and we
achieved closer relationships with environmental authorities.
In order to strengthen the institutional management system, we have executed
Inter-Agency Agreements with environmental agencies, such as the Institute of
Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (Instituto de Hidrología,
Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales – IDEAM). Under that agreement, we were able to
place one weather station in each of four high mountain battalions.
These stations are, for the most part, situated at altitudes of over 3,600
meters above sea level. Another weather station is located in the Department of
Tolima. This equipment is used to monitor the country’s climate. We also executed
Agreement No. 021 of 2009 with the District Secretary of the Environment in Bogotá,
which is intended to have Instruction, Training and Retraining Battalion 13, in the
municipality of Usme, recover and restore ecological balance by eradicating the
exotic invading species known as the common gorse [Ulex europaeus], in order to
maintain biodiversity in this plateau ecosystem.

What is your department’s budget for conservation and environmental
improvements?

Significant resources have been allocated to cover environmental projects.
This is important evidence of the Army Command’s policy.
During this year, we invested $2.2 billion pesos to improve the basic
sanitation systems at the units, including maintenance for water pipes, sewers and
networks, to minimize and control our impact on the water sources that flow through
the military units’ facilities.
Additionally, in 2010, we invested $280 million pesos in research to develop
environmental management plans in the aviation units, as well as $183 million pesos
invested in training and $40 million pesos in advertising materials.”

Can you address some of the advances in establishing the environmental
programs?

The units have made great strides in implementing the programs, such as
planting 18,913 individual trees of different native species. They have also started
and maintained 29 vegetable gardens in different units, and they have recovered
43,300 kilograms of recyclable material, such as paper, plastic, glass, aluminum and
scrap metal.

What effect have the measures adopted by the Environmental Management Offices
had with regard to the war on drugs?

The offices perform a fundamental task in the front lines of the battle the
Army is waging on drug trafficking.
In 2010, we destroyed 16,996 hectares of illegal crops through manual
eradication. Last year, military personnel in different units deployed throughout
the country also seized a total of five tons of cocaine, 14 tons of cocaine base,
one ton of speedballs and 33 tons of marijuana. They also found 991,191 gallons of
liquid raw material and 302,822 kilos of solid precursor chemicals.
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