Sara Mohseni

Wageningen University, Netherlands & Fundación ALMA, Colombia

Supervisory team: Rutgerd Boelens & Bibiana Duarte-Abadía

Ciénaga de Zapatosa is a largest sweet-water floodplain lake of Colombia, encompassing 360 km2 in summer and 500 km2 in winter (Aguilera, 2011). It is located in two departments: Cesar and Magdalena, and five municipalities: Chimichagua, Tamalameque, El Banco, Chiriguaná, and Curumaní (Aguilera, 2011). Ciénaga de Zapatosa is inhabited by around 150.000 people and 170.000 cattle (Viloria, 2008). There are no large companies in this area and people mainly rely on fish for sustaining their livelihoods. However, large companies upstream the Magdalena River do affect the water quality and quantity in Ciénaga de Zapatosa (Aguilera, 2011). These companies are mainly coal companies and large palm, pineapple and rice farms that subtract significant amount of water out of the river (Aguilera, 2011, Ricaurte et al., 2017). On top of that, large cities dump their wastewater in the Magdalena River which ends up in Ciénagas such as Ciénaga de Zapatosa (Aguilera, 2011). In view of the low priority given to this issue by the local government, inhabitants of the Ciénagas are rendered helpless to find concrete ways of transforming the local situation. (Boelens et al., 2018).


Aguilera, M. (2011). La economía de las ciénagas del Caribe colombiano. Banco de la República de Colombia.

Viloria, J. (2008). Economía extractiva y pobreza en la ciénaga de Zapatosa. Ía de las Ciénagas del Caribe Colombia, 54.

Ricaurte, L. F., Olaya-Rodríguez, M. H., Cepeda-Valencia, J., Lara, D., Arroyave-Suárez, J., Max Finlayson, C., & Palomo, I. (2017). Future impacts of drivers of change on wetland ecosystem services in colombia. Global Environmental Change, 44, 158–169.

Boelens, R., Perreault, T., & Vos, J. (Eds.). (2018). Water justice. Cambridge University Press.

Sempegua and la Mata are two fishermen’s villages in Cienaga de Zapatosa, located at opposite sites of the Cienaga. As in other fishermen’s villages people’s livelihood mainly depends on fishery. Both communities consist of many different people; fishermen and fisherwomen, people working on farms or in larger villages, adolescents, elderly people etc. All these people are connected differently to the river. There has no study been done yet on how fishermen communities perceive the Cienaga and respond to its changes. This knowledge is however crucial to empower their voice in policymaking and is therefore the focus point of this study.

On top of that, sedimentation processes taking place in the Cienaga affect the lives of the inhabitants. Increased sedimentation leads to more excessive floods, forcing more people to leave their houses during the rainy season. However, there is no cheap way yet to measure on a yearly basis how much sedimentation there is in the Cienaga close to Sempegua and la Mata. Gathering this information by means of participatory action research (PAR) would improve awareness of the community on the processes taking place in the Cienaga. Finally, ten years of gathered satellite imagery data will be analysed to investigate the spatial and temporal distribution of sedimentation in Cienaga de Zapatosa.