What if? Risk prevention, urban planning and Habitat III

Peru, South America | October 17th, 2016

What if instead of reducing risks, we avoid creating risks in the first place? What if, instead of building dykes to protect flood-prone riverbanks where people live, we convert these areas into public areas [rather than residential areas], roads, gardens, soccer playgrounds or any infrastructure that could be flooded without major impacts?

In the technical language of Disaster Risk Management, this issue lays within ‘risk prevention’, or ‘reducing exposure to hazards’. Exposure to hazards is one of the main causes of people´s vulnerability. It looks quite easy to implement: we only need to prevent people from building their houses in high risk areas. That should not be problematic, assuming that they know that the area is dangerous, right?

Yes, that should not be difficult in a city where there is appropriate housing for everyone: safe, cheap, and relatively well located (near to work, relatives and social services such as schools and hospitals). Unfortunately, in many cities the housing offer is still insufficient to address the needs of the poor.

Self-built homes in high risky areas appears too frequently as a satisfactory option for poor people. In Peru, it is estimated that 80% of the housing is self-built[1].  Most of these constructions do not respect quality standards, including land titles, trained masons, materials of quality. In Lima, the capital of Peru, only 3% of the self-built houses can be considered as “formal” settlements[2]. Many of them are also located in high risky areas, especially with landslide and flood hazards.

Self-built houses in a risky area in Peru prone to landslides.

Self-built houses in a risky area in Peru prone to landslides.

We cannot stop people from building their home in risky areas without providing them with a relevant housing alternative: this is where Disaster Risk Management meets land planning and Habitat issues.

In February 2016, Practical Action Peru promoted the creation of a national civil society network to improve Peruvian cities, with a strong focus to attack the roots of urban risks. The Peru Habitat Committee was born, gathering 23 local NGOs. During eight months, the committee discussed the challenges Peruvian cities are facing, and what could be done to improve disaster risk management, basic services, land planning, governance, etc. The full report can be downloaded here. And it is now time to spread the word to make these recommendations a reality: join us during our side-event at Habitat III on Tuesday 18th, in the Central University of Quito, from 9am to 10am!

[1] Overseas Development Institute (ODI), On the path to progress, 2015). See https://www.odi.org/publications/9623-peru-urban-water-sanitation-slum-cities-lima-service-delivery

[2] Cámara Peruana de la Construcción. (2015, Abril). La informalidad en la construcción es una “bomba de tiempo”. 23-31. Informe Económico de la Construcción Num. 3, 23-31

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