“CUIDÁ” environmental committees for comprehensive risk management in the Aburrá Valley


Foto: © CUIDÁ

The Aburrá Valley is located north of the central mountain range in Colombia and is made up of ten municipalities including Medellin, the industrial capital of Colombia and the second largest city. The valley covers an area of 1,152 square kilometers (445 square miles) and has a total population of 3.4 million people, 98% of which live in urban areas. Due to the topographical conditions of the valley and the fact that people have been settling in larger numbers in the lowlands and on the hillsides, environmental conditions have deteriorated quickly in the past decade. The worsening conditions have resulted in a number of socio-natural events such as landslides and floods, which have taken the lives of a considerable number of people and caused untold economic loss.

This situation has led the Aburrá Valley Metropolitan Area—the urban environmental planning authority—to work in association with EAFIT University to design and implement a community network for comprehensive risk management in the Aburrá Valley. It is an organized, open, and participatory system that promotes the principles of voluntary action, mutual assistance, solidarity, diversity, tolerance, communication, respect, ownership, and teamwork towards the common goal of taking care of and protecting the environment. It also works towards optimizing natural resources by formulating and implementing actions directed at the promotion of a culture of environmental awareness and protection.

CUIDÁ Environmental Committees

The basic units, or hubs, of the network are environmental committees that go by the name of CUIDÁ plus the name of their neighborhood or sector. (For example, “CUIDÁ La Inmaculada” is the name of the committee in a neighborhood called La Inmaculada.) The committees are defined as an association of people who work together voluntarily on a program of environmental education, monitoring, and oversight in their geographical area. They are committed to learning about, understanding, and managing their environment while strengthening a culture of environmental awareness and protection.

An environmental and social assessment was conducted in the valley to identify the most critical sectors of the region and, initially, 50 environmental committees were created. The idea behind the committees was that they would facilitate the kind of social cohesion that is essential for the work to be sustained over the long term. Currently, more than 800 people from diverse cultural, social, and economic backgrounds are participating in the CUIDÁ committees


Since many children were coming to the various meetings and activities with their parents, CUIDÁ feeder groups were also created. Now, more than 200 children —mostly children and relatives of CUIDÁ members—are participating in these groups while the adults attend other meetings. In trainings designed specifically for them, the children are learning about the culture of prevention and environmental management.

Each committee is capable of creating, accompanying, and sustaining community processes aimed at environmental protection and development. The CUIDÁ committee is the community’s first point of contact for environmental response, and it is the channel for communication between the municipal government, the environmental authority, and the community.

The mission of the CUIDÁ committees is to carry out protection, prevention, recovery, and oversight actions related to critical environmental situations. The voluntary work of the committees positions them as local leaders in the area of environmental development, and it generates activities that bring area residents together to raise awareness about the importance of a healthy environment. The committees’ primary objective is to work towards the development of the community by getting residents involved in creating and implementing protection, prevention, oversight, and monitoring measures related to the environmental situations particular to their area. They also develop mechanisms for social outreach, teamwork, and shared responsibility.

The environmental committees carry out many activities including: 1) planning and organizing activities aimed at identifying and planning the kind of community outreach work the CUIDÁ will need to do in the areas of environmental management and protection of natural resources; 2) coordination and implementation activities related to carrying out the plans according to the various competencies and capacities; and, finally, 3) oversight and follow-up activities related to the monitoring and evaluation of environmental problems, protection measures and agreements (proposed and implemented), intervention mechanisms, and goals reached.

Other actions taken by the environmental committees include risk management activities. Community work in this area is carried out within the framework of already established models for comprehensive risk management, including organization for effective disaster prevention, response and recovery. The various lines of action are: risk analysis, risk reduction (reducing hazards and vulnerability), risk transfer, response design and execution, and recovery design and implementation (rehabilitation and reconstruction).

Internal structure of the environmental committees

A CUIDÁ group is a team of volunteers who decide to work together and who take the lead in creating an environmental committee. Under the leadership of a coordinator, members work towards a particular goal, according to their abilities and specific competencies. They are multicultural groups that consolidate and grow stronger as they meet and work together on environmental issues. The organizational chart is arranged according to profiles, jobs, and commissions. This facilitates the work and helps provide greater accountability according to the functions assigned.

Commissions are used by a group of people to achieve their proposed goals by using specific strategies, procedures, and methodologies. Every member of a commission contributes his or her abilities in order to complement the work of other members and to work together for a common objective and goal. Results are a shared responsibility.

Watch Groups

Watch groups, or vigías, are in charge of monitoring and overseeing environmental conditions in a certain area and are responsible for taking leadership on intervention processes that improve the quality of life of the communities they represent. Members of the vigías specialize in information about the problems specific to their sector, and they carry out individual and collective actions in a certain subject area. Four types of vigías, or watch groups, have been created. The environmental watch group is the most general structure and is often used in recently established committees. Later on, more specific functions might be added within watch groups that specialize in the watershed, the hillsides, the forest, air quality, or other areas.

Environmental Education Commission

The Environmental Education Commission is in charge of promoting educational opportunities not only within the CUIDÁ group, but also in the community as a whole. It coordinates actions aimed at improving the environmental conditions of the surrounding areas by identifying institutional and social actors who have the responsibility and the need to participate in solving existing problems.

Prevention and Emergency Response Commission

The primary goal of the Prevention and Emergency Response Commission is to strengthen the CUIDÁ groups by promoting an environment that can be improved and sustained by taking care of existing resources. The condition of these resources has deteriorated and their inappropriate use can cause significant environmental problems


This project was made possible thanks to the Metropolitan Area of the Aburrá Valley and its ongoing work on sustainable development and on improving the quality of life for its residents. The authors would like to express their sincere thanks to the entire team of the EAFIT University for their excellent work

For more information:
Edier Aristiábal, MI, PhD Student. Project
Coordinator. Área Metropolitana del Valle de
Aburrá, Calle 41 No 53-07, Medellín, Colombia.
Tel. 385-6000 ext. 438.