Environmental activist murders doubled in Colombia last year, making it the most dangerous country in the world for those trying to protect the planet, a watchdog said Tuesday.
In its annual review, Global Witness named 177 land and environmental defenders who had been killed in 2022 -- from the Amazon to the Philippines and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Latin America again bore the brunt of the murders, including 39 killings across the vast Amazon rainforest, a vital carbon sink facing widespread destruction at a time the world is grappling to curb climate change.
The number of those killed has progressively decreased since a record 227 in 2020, however "this does not mean that the situation has significantly improved," said Global Witness.
"The worsening climate crisis and the ever-increasing demand for agricultural commodities, fuel and minerals will only intensify the pressure on the environment -– and those who risk their lives to defend it," warned the London-based watchdog.
While in 2021 most killings took place in Mexico, Colombia last year surged ahead with 60 deaths -- more than a third of all the murders globally.
"This is almost double the number of killings compared to 2021, when 33 defenders lost their lives," said the report.
Many of those targeted were Indigenous people, members of Afro-descendant communities, small-scale farmers and environmental activists.
At least five children, three of them Indigenous, were among the global tally.
"Yet there is hope," said the NGO, praising efforts under new leftist President Gustavo Petro to boost protection for defenders -- a first in the country.
Colombian sociologist and activist Nadia Umana, 35, fled her northern home after the murders of four colleagues, all of whom had been fighting for the return of rural lands taken over by paramilitaries.
"Knowing that a colleague of yours was murdered is an indescribable pain," Umana told AFP in Bogota.
Even the country's vice-president, Francia Marquez -- the 2018 winner of the prestigious Goldman environmental prize -- has faced multiple threats.
In 2019, she survived an attack by gunmen who tried to kill her over her work defending her home region's water resources against mining companies.
- Mining, logging, farming -
According to Global Witness, almost 2,000 land and environmental defenders have been murdered over the past decade -- some 70 percent of them in Latin America.
In Brazil, where British journalist Dom Philips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were killed last year in the Amazon, a total of 34 land defenders were killed.
Mexico, Honduras, and the Philippines also had high numbers.
Global Witness said that while it was "difficult to identify" the exact drivers for the killings, 10 were found to be linked to agribusiness, eight to mining, and four to the logging industry.
Aside from activists, state officials, demonstrators, park rangers, lawyers, and journalists are also among those who lost their lives.
"All of them shared a commitment to defend their rights and keep the planet healthy. All of them paid for their courage and commitment with their lives," said the report.