Colombia: El Dorado International Airport Expansion Project

Plane from the El Dorado airport flying over a building in Fontibón.

A plane from the El Dorado airport flying over a building in Fontibón.

Breaking news: an independent investigation validates community concerns. Read our blog and sign our petition!

Para información en español, por favor vea el blog y el tabulador de documentos.

Accountability Counsel supports community members in the Fontibón locality in Bogotá, Colombia in their efforts to secure remedy and hold the Inter-American Development Bank (“IDB”) accountable for funding an expansion of the El Dorado International Airport that has caused a severe noise-related health harm, among other problems.

Accountability Counsel assists Comunidades Unidas Macroproyecto Aeropuerto El Dorado (“Comunidades Unidas”), a community-based organization in Fontibón. Comunidades Unidas filed a complaint to the IDB’s accountability office, the Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (“MICI”), in August 2011. While the complaint raised several important concerns about the airport expansion, one of the principal concerns was the lack of noise mitigation. Today, planes land on the runway adjacent to Fontibón up to 24 hours a day, and there is no reprieve from the noise. As a result, at least one third of adult residents of Fontibón suffer from chronic insomnia, leading to symptoms such as frequent headaches, irritability, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating. The noise has also caused hearing damage in children, impacting their development and academic progress. Comunidades Unidas has documented the severe noise in this video.

After the Consultation Phase of the complaint failed to resolve the noise concerns, Comunidades Unidas turned to Accountability Counsel for assistance. In September 2014, Accountability Counsel assisted communities in filing a supplemental document analyzing violations of the IDB’s safeguards policies and arguing that the Bank bears responsibility for the severe noise-related harm. That complaint was found eligible for the Compliance Review Phase. On 3 December 2015, the Board approved MICI’s recommendation to conduct an investigation of the role of the Bank in any harm caused by expansion of the airport.

Community members harmed by the Airport Expansion

Community members harmed by the airport expansion

In June 2017, MICI finally released its investigation report, confirming that the Bank violated at least seven different aspects of its environmental and social obligations, causing harm to communities. Among other conclusions, MICI found:

  • The Bank and its client, the company OPAIN, failed to recognize the scale and complexity of the noise risks. Fontibón has a population of more than 300,000 people and many of its residents live directly on the margins of the airport. The Bank and OPAIN failed to evaluate the impact that increased noise generated by the expanded airport would have on the residents there.
  • The Bank and OPAIN failed to meaningfully consult communities before the project was approved and as it was implemented.
  • The Bank and OPAIN failed to validate that appropriate systems and mitigation measures – including noise insulation – were in place to protect communities from the severe noise.
  • Noise levels in the Fontibón neighborhood have frequently exceeded national legal noise limits. Yet the Bank had no system in place to monitor or respond to these violations, and therefore had no way to ensure that the project it was financing complied with national law.
  • These failures are linked to the health and stress impacts that communities are suffering. Studies have found that at least a third of Fontibón residents suffer from chronic insomnia and that reports of hearing damage are higher in areas with greater exposure to the noise. Children are particularly vulnerable, with studies finding a relationship between long-term exposure to aircraft noise and developmental delays. Yet the Bank made no mention of health risks and impacts.

However, despite acknowledging the strength of these independent findings, the Bank does not plan to take any meaningful steps towards fixing the problems in Bogotá. The IDB Board of Directors failed to adopt MICI’s recommendation that the Bank work with relevant Colombian authorities to analyze ways to improve the sustainability of the airport, claiming that such action is out of its control.

We will continue to work with Comunidades Unidas to demand that the airport operators and the new investors in the airport resolve the issues identified by MICI and develop a long-term noise management plan that supports community health and well-being.

Translate »