|IDNDR - Informs - Number 09-10, Special Edition, 1996 (IDNDR)|
CITIES AT RISK
The IDNDR slogan for 1996 is "Cities at Risk", in reference to the Habitat II World Conference, held in June of this year in Istanbul, Turkey. The main reason for choosing this subject, however, is the increasing vulnerability of urban centers. The world's urban population is growing at a rapid pace. At the same time, poverty is mushrooming, and deficiencies in infrastructure maintenance, the complexity of services and economic activities, and environmental degradation conspire to increase considerably the risks posed by "natural " hazards. Most cities y Latin America and the Caribbean are exposed to one or several natural threats.
Our Special Report begins with two interesting contributions on
environmental degradation, urban disasters and the role of local governments in
disaster management and reduction. We hope this subject is of interest to IDNDR
National Committees, and that they will provide us with information on the
activities carried out in observance of International Disaster Reduction Day,
which falls on 9
Latin American Federation of Social Sciences (FLACSO) Secretariat, "LA RED", Costa Rica
Currently, 75% of the Latin American population lives in urban environments. By the year 2025, according to United Nations projections, this ratio will increase to 85%. Urban economies in the region account for between 60% and 80% of the Gross National Product.
The great majority of the region's largest cities (not to mention medium-sized and small cities) are located in areas at risk from a variety of natural hazards, particularly earthquakes, floods, landslides and tidal waves.
Historically, the propensity of many cities to disasters has been well documented, from the destruction of Lima (1746) and Antigua Guatemala, to the more recent seismic disasters in Huaraz, Peru (1970), Managua (1972), Guatemala City (1976), Popayán (1984), Mexico City (1986) and San Salvador (1986); the great floods of Buenos Aires (from 1985 onwards); the massive landslides in Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and Recife in Brazil (1988 onwards), and the destruction of Armero, Colombia by a mud-slideMud-slide?, the result of the eruption of Nevado de Ruiz Volcano in 1985.
The risk factors and potential disasters to which cities are exposed by the interaction of natural events, aggravated by a vulnerable social environment, are complicated still further by the rapid evolution of a series of risks posed by the processes of industrialization and changes in transportation and commercial patterns typical of a "modern" economy. The threats are compounded by the very growth of cities, which often occurs in an anarchic, laisser faire fashion, without adequate controls over the process of urban development. The damage and loss of life caused by the explosions of a gas pipeline in Northern Mexico City in 1984, of gas pipelines in Guadalajara (1992), and most recently of a shopping center in Sao Paulo, are simply the most notorious anthropic disasters of the past decades. But no less significant, in terms of urban risk, are the high levels of air, water and soil pollution in many cities of the region, particularly Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Lima, and Santiago, which pose a direct threat to the health of the population. One should not leave out the growing number of catastrophic urban fires, or even the devastation wrought by urban terrorism, e.g., the activities of armed groups in Lima or the destruction of the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires.
Events of great magnitude such as those mentioned above capture the national and international headlines. But cities are exposed on a daily basis to smaller-scale risks which are, however, growing in frequency and intensity. These are laying the ground for future events of greater magnitude; what is more, their cumulative impact may well exceed that of a single event of great magnitude but relatively rare occurrence.
Settlement density, centralization and concentration, the interdependent nature of urban functions, and the synergy generated by a city, make it inevitable that the impact of certain physical events will have profound repercussions not only for the urban structure itself but at the regional, national, and potentially international level. The trend towards the concentration of poverty in cities remains unchecked, with all sorts of dramatic implications for the vulnerability of the population. In addition, the trend towards urban predominance will continue in the foreseeable future. It is highly likely that urban infrastructure will l double in the next 25-35 years. Exposure to risk will increase accordingly, as will the likelihood of greater absolute losses. The growth in the number and variety of hazards which has characterized the last 30 years will tend to continue; in fact, it will be aggravated by the potential impact of climate changes and changes in the ocean level associated with atmospheric pollution and the thinning of the ozone layer. The coastal location of a significant number of key urban centers in Latin America and the Caribbean would then become an additional risk factor.
Until now, urban disaster assessment has focused on the losses suffered, the social and economic impact of events, and the response of the State and civil society, with some attention paid to the question of social vulnerability. When looking at hazards, research has concentrated on those described as natural (particularly earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes), using as its tools inventories and maps forecasts and predictions. predictions These approaches are no longer sufficient, either in terms of research, or from the point of view of trying to provide feedback to decision-makers and the general public about the options available for prevention and mitigation in the future.
From our perspective, the problem of urban risk and disasters must be understood within a broader framework of urban environmental degradation and management, and which cannot ignore intricately interconnected factors at the urban-regional level. Degradation, in this sense, involves "a reduction in degree" and "changes in a system's homeostasis", such that the urban system in questions suffers from a reduction of its productivity. When looking at the urban environment (and the urban-regional environment), we would not only be thinking of the natural environment or ecosystem, but also of the socially constructed environment: the city and its physical structures, its social and cultural patterns, and so on.
The importance of such an approach is made clear by the recognition of two irrefutable facts.
First, even accepting the great destructive or disruptive potential of natural events of great magnitude, such as quakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes, it is likely that the most persistent and perceptible urban hazards are created by human action, even if they have a "natural" manifestation. An example would be the floods caused by deforestation, silting in river-beds, and the blockage of canals by solid-waste deposits. Further examples would be the landslides produced by the undermining of slopes, or the urban "droughts" caused by the irrational and competitive use of water resources Such "socio-natural " hazards, as well as others related to anthropic pollution or technology, are problems faced every day by decision makers and the general public. Great earthquakes or hurricanes, on the other hand, are sporadic and relatively infrequent. Moreover, anthropic hazards can by definition be controlled by human action. It would certainly be possible to develop effective reduction policies, so long as there is a clear understanding of causes and responsibilities, and political consensus develops on the need to control harmful practices. What is needed is to see these practices as an "unacceptable risk".
Secondly, the degradation of the constructed environment (including its social, organizational and cultural dimensions) plays an increasingly important role in creating or increasing risk conditions. Inappropriate urban construction patterns, together with the absence or poor maintenance of rainwater drainage systems, are responsible for more urban floods than purely natural causes. (Consider the case of Buenos Aires.) Settlements of increasing density near rivers or lakes without proper treatment of sewage and solid waste lead to pollution levels in the water that threaten public health and set the stage for growing urban epidemics.
Finally, the increase of social vulnerability and the financial crisis of cities produce constant urban environmental degradation, posing risks which grow day by day.
Maria Augusta Fernandez, Ecuador
Wally N'Dow, Secretary General of the Habitat II Conference, reports that by the year 2000 half of humanity will live in cities. By 2030, the urban population will be twice as large as that in rural areas. Peace and security, he claims, will not be achieved in a world in which growth is accompanied by the expansion of poverty. True security can only be attained when people's welfare is the guiding concern: health, safe and productive lives in an environment that encourages the full development of human potential.
South America's cities are no exception. Local governments cannot remain indifferent to the many problems their cities face. There have been significant strides in productivity and health, but little has been achieved in terms of safety.
South America's local governments have begun searching for measures to improve the safety of their communities. This new trend can be attributed to various factors, among them:
· The frequency, complexity and consequences of disasters have been on the increase as a result of the growing number of hazards caused by human action. Vulnerability has increased, particularly in urban areas, due to conditions such as high population growth rates, low income patterns among the majority of the population, lack of adequate infrastructure, the urbanization and feminization of poverty, an unequal distribution of public resources, lack of planning and homegrown development models, among others.
· The decentralization process under way in most South American countries empowers communities to deal with their own problems.
· Communities' awareness that their elected officials represent their interests better than central governments. They are better at responding to the need for infrastructure, mobilizing local resources, promoting participation and bringing people together to solve their own problems. By communities, we mean both the public and private sector, grassroots organizations and ordinary citizens.
· Central governments recognize that they cannot deal by themselves with the safety challenges posed by rapid and unplanned urban growth. Community demands, based on their own needs, offer the best routes to promoting political changes at the national level.
An evaluation carried out by USAID in 1996 in a number of South American local communities revealed a wide variety of institutionalized mechanisms for disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness on the part of local governments. Some examples:
· The City Council of Libertador, part of Greater Caracas, Venezuela, was not daunted by the lack of a clear national legal framework defining the role of local governments in safety matters. It went ahead and established the Municipal System of Emergency Mitigation and Response, made up of three committees: the Community Education Committee concentrates on awareness raising among the general population regarding what actions to take in the event of a disaster the Investigations Committee looks into the causes of disasters; and the Operations Committee is in charge of making sure that all logistical elements are in place if disaster strikes. During an emergency or disaster, all relevant institutions come together in an Emergency Operations Committee.
· Asuncion City Council in Paraguay set up a Municipal Emergency Council to design the Municipal Disaster Prevention and Response System. The Municipal System's structure is similar to the one proposed by the Central Government as a replacement for the current, outdated National System. The Municipal System assigns relevant community institutions and groups to a Prevention and Mitigation Committee and a Preparedness and Response Committee.
· Within the framework of the National Civil Defense Act, Quito City Council in Ecuador passed a by-law decreeing the establishment of the Municipal Emergency Risk Mitigation and Response System. The System covers not only natural disasters but also everyday emergencies, and contemplates mechanisms to prepare local authorities and emergency personnel, trough drills and other daily exercises, to ensure they can respond to catastrophic events.
When risk factors and public safety are included as basic components of local planning and management, the first crucial steps have been taken towards the establishment of sustainable cities.
The concept of "urban disaster" differs from the traditional definition of disaster, usually related to catastrophic events. In cities, more people die as a result of traffic accidents or polluted water or food, than as a result of earthquakes. Small but frequent urban landslides are not reported by the press as disasters, but if we look at cumulative impact we find they cause more loss of life and economic losses every year than those rare landslides identified as catastrophic.
Far from being purely physical phenomena, disasters have a strong political connotation. Should elected officials wait until a catastrophic event has hit their constituencies before they include in their agendas prevention and response strategies'? Should local governments take the initiative in developing institutionalized risk management mechanisms, or should they wait for changes in national legislation?
Moreover, the need to involve local authorities hi disaster management is self-evident. They are in the best position to respond to community needs when the normal functioning of a city has been disrupted. They are constantly responding to urban disasters, whether their role has been institutionalized or not. There is an urgent need to discuss how to turn this de facto response into a formal item in the municipal agenda. Although there are few examples of models fully in place in the region's municipalities. there is a wealth of experiences which can provide many valuable lessons. We who are accountable to local urban communities must learn these lessons and apply them.
Decenio Internacional para la Reducción de los Desastres Naturales DIRDN 1990-2000
Is it time, for instance, to incorporate risk management in all investments, both public and private, made in South America's cities?
How should local authorities and the community be trained to play a successful role in risk and public safety management?
Traditionally, local governments and communities have given priority to infrastructure, education and health. But surveys show that safety is also considered crucial. Perhaps it is time to view safety, in the widest possible sense, as an urban service.
Maria Augusta Fernandez is Region al Disaster Consultant for the Regional Urban Housing and Development Office for South America of the U.S. Agency for International Development. You may contact her by e-mail at the following address:
mfernandez @ usaid.gov
Chile: THE QUALITY OF LIFE OF A COMMUNITY
The National Emergency Bureau (ONEMI) of the Ministry of the Interior, in accordance with the Chilean government's modernization strategy, pays special attention to the need for coordination by strengthening the institutional technical role and convening all relevant actors, without excluding any organizational level.
In this sense, institutional development is fully compatible with ONEMl's role as an inter-sectoral planning and coordinating department and its mandate to incorporate hazard, vulnerability, risk and resource assessments into the country's development plans.
This process of modernization is guided by the clear understanding that protecting the population from natural or anthropic hazards is part of the comprehensive protection which every citizen seeks and is entitled to. Efficient and effective response calls for political, cultural and economic decisions that can greatly benefit society, particularly the most disadvantaged of its members.
Therefore, urban planning must be part of a process that integrates disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness. One of the main goals of urban planning is to guarantee physical safety in the event of adverse phenomena. Disaster mitigation will be achieved by adapting in an appropriate manner to the causal factors of disasters, as well as by adopting measures to counteract accumulated vulnerability conditions.
ONEMI has signed an agreement with the Chilean Association of Municipalities to ensure that these concerns are taken up at the local level.
The emphasis placed by ONEMl on its Institutional Development Project is based on a management policy designed to be congruent with its mandate. It must be understood as a commitment to action at the service of citizens. Efficiency and effectiveness in public administration are valuable not in themselves but instrumentally, to the extent that they help to reach a substantive objective: improving the community's quality of life. This conception has guided ONEMI's institutional work in the development of three strategic components of emergency management during and after an event:
· Education is crucial for the promotion and dissemination of a culture of prevention and mitigation. What is required is changes in lifestyles and attitudes.
· Infrastructure can only be considered holistically if it is correlated to emergency and disaster mitigation.
· Fighting poverty will remain ineffective untiI adequate emergency and disaster prevention and mitigation policies are in place, since society's most vulnerable groups are always worst hit by such events.
All efforts aimed at the country's economic and social development will not be as efficient and effective as hoped for until emergency and disaster management becomes one of their cornerstones. Institutional policies must therefore focus on:
· Preventing natural phenomena from fuming into disasters.
· Mitigating their impact.
· Reducing and, whenever possible, preventing technological disasters.
· Preparing adequately so inevitable disasters cause the least possible damage.
· Coordinating effectively the response to a disaster that has surpassed local response capacity.
Planning does not necessarily culminate with the final draft of a plan. It is an ongoing process that includes preparing and drilling for emergencies and disasters.
For more information, contact: E-mail:
The Paraguayan capital, Asuncion, suffers every year from loss of property along the banks of the Paraguay river. Although there are dikes in place, their effectiveness has been compromised by low income groups who have been forced to settle beyond the protected areas, even though annual flooding threatens to take away their every possession.
An ambitious program called Protecting the Coastal Fringe is to change the face of the city by the year 2000. The municipal program focuses on changing people's behavior and the use of vulnerable river banks.
The first step has been to design an urban development plan which takes into account the historical heritage but also the risks and vulnerabilities of the city. The plan was completed with the active participation of the population living in areas at risk. Among other actions taken, a census was carried out to establish the size of the affected population and their level of income. In addition, workshops have been organized in areas at risk to come up with solutions that are acceptable to the affected population and also feasible for City Council to implement. Negotiations are under way with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to secure the financing for this great project.
Some of the strategies outlined in the project include:
· Developing environmentally sustainable solutions that regard the city and the river as integrated parts of a dynamic system.
· Improving the living conditions of current settlers as a first step towards finding long-term sustainable housing solutions.
· Creating more green areas to make Asunción's ecosystem sustainable.
· Generate economic and employment opportunities for those who are resettled.
So far, this project has led to the emergence of an innovative network involving public, private and community organizations. The workshops and public information campaigns have already produced a positive change of outlook among both settlers at risk and local authorities.
For more information, contact: Gonzalo Garay, Director, Urban Planning, Municipality of Asuncion.
Fax: (595-21) 610591
Jointly organized by the Municipality of San Jose, Costa Rica and the Union of Capital Cities of Ibero-America with the support of the Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica (OVSICORI), and of that country's National University (UNA) and the National Emergency Commission (CNE), an international seminar was held between 23 and 25 April 1996 on the Role of Local Governments in Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.
The goal of the seminar was to raise the awareness of municipalities and local governments concerning the need to develop well-defined disaster prevention and response policies. It brought together municipal decision-makers and technical staff from Spain and 10 countries in Latin America. Panelists included representatives of the PAHO/WHO Disasters Program, the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) Secretariat, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and CEPREDENAC.
For more information, please contact: Dr. Cecilia Bolaños Loría, Apdo. 5102- 1000 San Jose, Costa Rica, tel. (506) 255-2850.
As part of the National Plan to Combat Poverty (PNCP), the government of Costa Rica has begun to incorporate prevention into its social development and sustainable development programs. The PNCP's Local Development Initiative and all other programs and projects now include a component of vulnerability reduction and disaster prevention and mitigation. These issues were taken into account when defining the PNCP's territorial priorities, and particularly the selection of the 16 districts of the country included in the Most Vulnerable Communities Program. The Local Development Initiative also includes a High-Risk Communities Program where the emphasis is on risk reduction by identifying dozens of communities imminently at risk from hazards such as flooding and landslides. This has involved a detailed assessment of the main river basins of the largely urban Central Valley and of the country's rural areas, to establish guidelines for public investment in infrastructure and housing. The goal is to resettle thousands of families and build low-cost infrastructure where it will be sufficient to reduce risks substantially.
The Most Vulnerable Communities Program covers eight rural districts and eight urban areas of high population density in San Jose's Greater Metropolitan Area and the two main ports, Limon and Puntarenas. Inter-institutional technical teams, with input from local authorities and grassroots organizations, carry out assessments and develop Integrated Local Development Plans which identify the necessary works and include project schedules and general budgets, as well as specific projects. In rural areas such as those near the northern border, a regional plan has. been developed under the guidance of the League of Northern Municipalities which covers the municipalities of Upala, Los Chiles and Guatuzo and which is currently being implemented. In urban areas more than 30,000 families are benefitting from this initiative, and there has been steady progress in all eight target communities. In a handful of communities - including Los Guidos, Tejarcillos and Rincón Grande de Pavas - Integrated Development Plans have been drafted and are being implemented which include building over 2,500 houses, as well as health and safety infrastructure and water-management and sewage systems. Over 1,500 families are being resettled, and rivers are being cleaned and treated. New settlements are built following the concept of the "Urban Forest", which calls for buildings and infrastructure sensitive to the local ecosystem, and for reclaiming formerly settled high-risk areas for reforestation and recreation.
In Latin America, decentralization is transferring a variety of functions to local governments and organizations, so they can better coordinate with the Central Government the actions needed to respond effectively to emergencies and disasters. This new role calls for adequate prevention and preparedness mechanisms involving public institutions and civil society in emergency management. The novelty of these functions for local governments means that there is considerable room for innovative thinking, but it also creates the need for exchanging experiences in order to see what works and what does not.
Within the framework of the International Decade. for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), the International Union of Local Authorities (IULA), the International Committee of the Red Cross, Chile's National Emergency Bureau (ONEMI) and the Chilean Association of Municipalities decided to organize a South American conference on the role of local governments and organizations in the events of emergencies and disasters, in preparation for the Amsterdam conference. The IDNDR Regional Office participated as facilitator during the South American conference, which was held in Santiago, Chile, from 10 to 12 April, 1996.
The 161 participants included representatives of local governments, national Red Cross societies, international organizations and civil society. The meeting provided an excellent opportunity for exchanging experiences, policies and technical solutions among local, national and international actors involved in disaster management.
The goals of the Conference were to:
· Promote the exchange of experiences, policies and technical solutions among international, national and local actors involved in local disaster and emergency management.
· Contribute to improved disaster management by optimizing communication channels between municipal authorities and local civil society organizations involved in emergency and disaster preparedness and management.
· Encouraging municipalities and regional and national organizations to incorporate emergency and disaster prevention and preparedness in local development plans.
The Conference was organized in the form of round tables, working groups and plenary sessions, which enabled the analysis of individual cases put forth by participants.
Participants drafted a final document, the Santiago Declaration, which committed them, among other things, to:
· Improve municipal planning capacity to include risk factors in urban development plans.
· Discuss these matters with mayors through the Association of Municipalities.
· Strengthen the role of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in educational programs.
· Encourage community involvement and commitment in order to develop effective disaster prevention and response policies at the local level.
· Respect the culture of affected populations.
· Promote better cooperation between CSOs in the development of a culture of self-protection.
For more information, please contact:
Mario Rosales, Representante IULA/CELCADEL. José M. Infante 174, of 104, Santiago, Chile. Fax: (56 2) 235-8926. E-mail: email@example.com
-Alberto Maturana, Director, ONEMI, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org