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Global Ideas

Bogotá's unique water source at risk

The páramos - an otherworldly landscape of moss, moors and lakes. At altitudes of more than 3,000 meters above sea level, these unique and spectacular ecosystems act as a reservoir and provide drinking water to millions.

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Project goal: Protecting biodiversity and consequently Bogotá's water supply
Implementation: Educating the public through researching biodiversity in the páramos
Biological diversity: Sixty percent of flora there, including the daisy tree, is unique to páramo ecosystems.
Size: As not all páramos are connected, it’s difficult to calculate their entire area. Colombia's Sumapaz Páramo is the world's largest such ecosystem, coming in at 700 square kilometers. It's just 20 kilometers from the country's capital, Bogotá

Spanish conquerors dubbed the páramos the "land of mist." An almost mystical world of moss and moors, lagunas and lakes, these special ecosystems are located in altitudes more than 3,000 meters above sea level, such as in the Andes regions of Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru. Colombia is home to almost half of all páramos.

Extremely rich in biodiversity, 60 percent of the vegetation found there is unique to the páramos. Mosses, lichens and grasses soak up huge amounts of water like sponges, then deliver it back into the river system. As such, the páramos are the country's source of water and act as capital Bogotá's reservoir.

But the highland ecosystem is endangered. Farmers and shepherds need the land for pasture, and are burning swathes of vegetation to clear the way. If vegetation there continues to be scorched, it will put the water supply for millions of people at risk. The state-owned water utility has bought almost half of the Chingaza National Park to protect the water source. But to what extent are the national parks affected, and where is the ecosystem is still intact? Berlin and Bogotá's botanical gardens are working together in a pilot project to protect the biodiversity of the páramos around the metropolis.

A film by Michael Altenhenne

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