Regional Disparities in Colombia: Causes and Evidence

Project: Research Project

Project Details


Territorial inequalities are a very important element for those of us who work in regional studies. The primary interest that has guided regionalists is to understand the reasons why economic, political, social and cultural development, among others, is distributed unevenly and in most cases unequally in the territories that make up the nation.
The new regional geography will speak to us of regional disparities as the result of a geo-historical process through which differentials are produced in the levels of well-being of the population, the size of regional production, the use and exploitation of the goods and resources available to the territory and the forms of articulation of the same both with the nation of which they are part and with the global context in which subnational territorial units are developing today.

For many years, regional disparities were measured primarily by the sigma and beta coefficients of departmental economies. However, territorial disparities far exceed the simple study of economic and productive aggregates. It is for this reason that the research being carried out analyzes the state of disparity existing among the Colombian departments under the following dimensions: The first dimension has to do with the degree of regional economic development reached by the departments on the basis of their natural endowment, their productive capacities, their efforts of economic competitiveness, their rate of internal savings and their rate of reinvestment of the benefits of growth.
A second dimension of analysis has to do with the existing disparities in the composition, strength, level of incidence and convocation of the political, social and economic institutions of the departments. The new regional geography understands the region as a center of social interaction, due to its primordial role in the production and reproduction of social relations (Cooke. 1987). In this point the region is understood at the same time as scenario and as territory of the relations between actors that compose the formal and informal institutions of the territory, who are the base on which the regional development is constructed. Without the existence of a strong, dynamic and transparent territorial institutionality it is practically impossible to achieve degrees of improvement in the levels of well-being of the populations that inhabit the subnational territories.
The third analytical dimension has to do with the effects of decentralization policies implemented by the central State in the face of regional imbalances. This dimension must be analyzed since the intention of the state in implementing fiscal, political and administrative decentralization policies was to grant autonomy to subnational territories and bring the government closer to the citizen, in order to effectively solve the needs of citizens with the greatest possible coverage and within the best quality standards. With this, the law expected that there would be a minimum level of well-being throughout the Colombian territory, but emphasizing the quality of life for the poorest. In this sense, decentralization has been the Colombian state's response to the problem of regional disparities in Colombia.

The fourth dimension that we will analyze is the capacity of state institutions to make the economic, political and social rights of the inhabitants of the departments effective. In this sense and being Milton Santos, we will observe the roughness of the territory, in order to establish the extent of state action in the territories and through public policies of departmental and local scope. The public institutional capacity is reflected, on the one hand, by the response capacity of the state at the territorial level to the needs of citizens and, on the other, by the level of professionalization of the territorial public administrations that allow for efficient, transparent, democratic public management in accordance with the competences that the territorial entity must exercise in accordance with the Constitution and the laws.

Finally, we will analyze the phenomena of re-centering and fragmentation of the regional dynamics that are taking place in the country. Given the deepening of regional disparities and the low impact of the decentralization process on the welfare differentials of the population in the Colombian departments, the nation has reacted under the modality of directly retaking the management of issues that by their nature belong to the orbit of management of subnational territories, thereby producing a counter-reform to the decentralizing process undertaken in the 1980s. In parallel, the departments and municipalities


The results will contribute to improving the formulation of territorial development policy in the country, both by the National Planning Department and CONPES, as well as by the Ministries of Environment, Housing, Foreign Trade, Finance, Labor and Transport among others.

Commitments / Obligations

The expected impact of research in social and institutional terms is twofold. The first is our active work within the Federation of Departments to feed the discussion and nourish with the results of research the improvement of the bill underway in Congress on the departmental regime code.
The second refers to the discussion with both the National Planning Department and the members of the Constitutional Court on the scope of territorial autonomy in Colombia and the guidelines for a territorial development policy that addresses the real needs of departments and municipalities in a differentiated, integral and comprehensive manner.
The publications include a book chapter and two academic articles showing the results of the research. Of these, the book chapter is already under peer review.
Within the participation in forums and presentation of research results in academic and institutional events, research results have been presented at the I International Chair of Public Administration at ESAP in May of this year and at the Federation of Departments on October 22 of this year.
Effective start/end date8/1/137/30/15

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities

Main Funding Source

  • National


  • Bogotá D.C.


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