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Latin America & Caribbean

Why cultural heritage matters for urban resilience

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture

Across the disaster risk management community, there is growing recognition that protecting cultural heritage is fundamental to urban resilience. Traditional knowledge embedded in cultural heritage, such as historical evacuation routes or shelters, can help societies cope with natural hazards. Moreover, when these hazards disrupt cultural heritage sites, such as museums, monuments and places of worship, they often cause irreparable damage to people’s cultures, identities and livelihoods.

A case in point is last year’s devastating earthquake in central Mexico, which damaged over 1,500 historic buildings, including the 250-year-old Church of Santa Prisca, one of the country’s grandest and most beloved churches. Mexico is one of a number of countries that have undertaken major efforts to protect cultural heritage sites, including through its Plan Verde, which works to reduce seismic and other disaster risks in Mexico City’s historic center.

On the sidelines of the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum, which was aptly held in Mexico City, Giovanni Boccardi, Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit for the Culture Sector of UNESCO, made the case that much more needs to be done to put cultural heritage front and center in the disaster risk management agenda.

After disasters hit, how countries and communities can build back better

Sameh Wahba's picture

Disaster losses disproportionately affect poor people, according to the 2017 “Unbreakable” report. The Caribbean Hurricane season of 2017 was a tragic illustration of this.

Not one, but two Category 5 hurricanes wreaked destruction on numerous small islands, causing severe damages on islands like Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Martin. The human cost of these disasters was immense, and the impact of this devastation was felt most strongly by poorer communities in the path of the storms.
 
And yet, amidst the destruction, it is essential to look forward and to build back better.
 
A new report, “Building Back Better: Achieving Resilience through Strong, Faster, and More Inclusive Post-Disaster Reconstruction,” explores how countries can strengthen their resilience to natural shocks through a better reconstruction process. It shows that reconstruction needs to be: 

Five ways cities can curb plastic waste

Silpa Kaza's picture

As the world observes World Environment Day this week, we should be mindful that there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050 if nothing is done, according to the Ellen & MacArthur Foundation.
 
The negative impacts that plastic is having on the environment and human health is profoundly evident:
  • Respiratory issues are increasing because of air pollution from burning plastic.
  • Animal lifespans are shortened because of consuming plastic.
  • Littered plastic is clogging drains and causing floods.
  • And unmanaged plastic is contaminating our precious oceans and waterways…

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
 

Ponto-cho mapIt is 7:45 p.m. in Ponto-cho, the historic narrow alley at the core of the Japanese city of Kyoto. Close to the Kaburenjo Theater – where still today Geikos and Maikos (Kyoto Geishas) practice their dances and performances – the traditional adjoining buildings with restaurants and shops are full of guests. Local people, tourists, students… On this Saturday in mid-April, the warm weather brings a lot of people to the streets nearby.

At 7:46 p.m., a M 5.1 earthquake strikes. Seven seconds of swaying. It doesn’t cause major damage, but it is enough to spread panic among a group of tourists. Screams, shoving, confusion… drinks spill, candles fall, people rush.

At 7:49 p.m., the fire starts spreading through the old wooden structures, also threatening the historic theater. Access is difficult due to the narrow streets and panicking crowd.

What happens next?

It could be a fire in the Ponto-cho traditional alley. It could be an earthquake shaking the historic center of Kathmandu (Nepal), the archaeological site of Bagan (Myanmar), or the historic town of Amatrice (Italy). It could be Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, blasting sites with rain, flooding, and gale-force winds.

Cultural heritage assets around the world are at risk. They are often vulnerable due to their age, as well as previous interventions and restorations made without disaster risk or overall site stability in mind. Heritage sites reflect legacies, traditions, and identities. With all this, they carry a large cultural and emotional value of what could be lost – certainly beyond the traditional calculus of economic losses.

In many cases, it is not possible or advisable to conduct reconstruction on cultural heritage sites post-disaster. Therefore, the essence and soul of a cultural heritage site is at risk of being lost forever, making preparedness and preservation even more critical.

How can we protect these special places and traditions from the threat of natural hazards?

Communicating volcanic risk: lava, eruptions and uncertainty

Jon Mikel Walton's picture
Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, one of Central America’s most active volcanos, spews ash and lava flows in January 2018, just 70 kilometers west of Guatemala City. Image credit: NASA
Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, one of Central America’s most active volcanos, spews ash and lava flows in January 2018, just 70 kilometers west of Guatemala City. Image credit: NASA

We live in an age of compounding uncertainty. The unpredictable impacts of climate change and the rapid urbanization of societies is increasing the complexity, difficulty, and necessity of making sound decisions when faced with numerous options. This uncertainty is acute with respect to natural disasters – for example, predicting hurricane intensity or locating the next big earthquake remain challenging tasks despite advances in science and monitoring tools.
 
The challenge of anticipating and communicating the risk of volcanic eruptions to communities requires complex decision-making. Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Volcano and Indonesia’s Mount Agung are recent examples where the warning signs were present (small earthquakes, increasing gas emissions, and more), yet an eruption came much later than expected. Volcanic eruptions are therefore a double-edged sword that often creates a decision-making dilemma. While signs of volcanic activity can provide adequate time for preparation and evacuation, the very same signs can also create conditions of extreme uncertainty, which can be exacerbated by piecemeal communication around eruption events.
 
So, what have we learned from recent experiences on the challenges of communicating volcanic risk? 

Landslides, dumpsites, and waste pickers

Silpa Kaza's picture
Photo: alionabirukova / Shutterstock
Editorial credit: alionabirukova / Shutterstock.com

Last week, the world came to attention when the famous Hulene dumpsite in Maputo, Mozambique collapsed under heavy rains, killing at least 16 people.
 
Buried under piles of waste were homes and people from one of the most impoverished settlements in Mozambique. Many members of this community made a living collecting and selling recyclables from the dumpsite, which had served as the final disposal site for greater Maputo since the 1960s.
 
Sadly, this tragedy did not stand alone.
 
In 2017, landslides at waste dumps occurred at a shocking frequency, accounting for over 150 deaths and relocation of several hundreds in Colombo, Sri Lanka; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Conakry, Guinea; and Delhi, India.
 
Sixty million people live near the world’s 50 largest dumpsites, most in low and lower middle-income countries, though thousands of other risky sites also exist around the globe. Fifteen million people make a living scavenging waste and are of the population disproportionately affected when poorly or unplanned disposal sites fail to function in the midst of ever-growing refuse and inclement weather. Those most vulnerable to the landslides of dumps are those living on or by these waste disposal sites. They are the ones who often power their cities’ recycling system.

National and local leaders in Latin America: Sustainable cities are resilient cities

Sameh Wahba's picture
Cities are critical engines of global growth. But as cities grow, they’re increasingly vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters.
 
The year of 2017 was one of many recent reminders of that “new normal”—from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria that pounded coastal United States and the Caribbean to the severe drought that struck Somali, which led to the displacement and even life losses of individuals and families.
 

The secret sauce for making the New Urban Agenda a success

Luis Triveno's picture

Also available in: Español | 中文

Credit: Lois Goh/ World Bank


Modernity’s most common story spanning national, cultural and religious borders is about people moving from rural areas to the cities. By 2030, 80% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, following the dream of better jobs, education, and health care.

Too often, however, that dream risks remaining an urban daydream, due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods, as well as climate change. Those of us working to help these families find a better future must focus more on ways to support efforts to protect their lives – and their livelihoods.
 
In the 40 years since the launch of Habitat I, governments and municipalities throughout emerging and developing countries have been proving that their cities can be not only inclusive and secure, but also resilient and sustainable. However, unless they increase their speed and scale, they are unlikely to achieve the goals of the “New Urban Agenda” and its Regional Plans, launched at Habitat III in 2016.
 
From our perspective helping governments in Latin America and the Caribbean, and ahead of the World Urban Forum taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in February, let us share three key ingredients necessary to achieve that goal:

Making homes safer to build resilient cities

Kristina Wienhoefer's picture

Children are often told that home is where to run inside when thunders hit or when the rain comes, and that home is a safe place. However, for billions of people in the world, it is not.
 
By 2030, it is estimated that 3 billion people will be at risk of losing a loved one or their homes—usually their most important assets—to natural disasters. In fact, the population living on flood plains or cyclone-prone coastlines is growing twice as faster as the population in safe homes in safer areas.
 
Due to climate change, extreme weather and other natural hazard events hit these populations harder and more often. The 10 natural disasters causing the most property damages and losses in history have occurred since 2005. The damages and losses were highly concentrated in the housing sector. While the poor experience 11% of total of asset losses, they suffer 47% of all the well-being losses. Worse, natural disasters can lead to unnecessary losses of life, with earthquakes alone causing 44,585 deaths on average per year. This is an issue that policymakers and mayors need to address if they don’t want their achievements in poverty reduction to be erased by the next hurricane or earthquake.

World Bank Group

What can satellite imagery tell us about secondary cities? (Part 2/2)

Sarah Elizabeth Antos's picture
In the previous blog, we discussed how remote sensing techniques could be used to map and inform policymaking in secondary cities, with a practical application in 10 Central American cities. In this post, we dive deeper into the caveats and considerations when replicating these data and methods in their cities.

Can we rely only on satellite? How accurate are these results?

It is standard practice in classification studies (particularly academic ones) to assess accuracy from behind a computer. Analysts traditionally pick a random selection of points and visually inspect the classified output with the raw imagery. However, these maps are meant to be left in the hands of local governments, and not published in academic journals.

So, it’s important to learn how well the resulting maps reflect the reality on the ground.

Having used the algorithm to classify land cover in 10 secondary cities in Central America, we were determined to learn if the buildings identified by the algorithm were in fact ‘industrial’ or ‘residential’. So the team packed their bags for San Isidro, Costa Rica and Santa Ana, El Salvador.

Upon arrival, each city was divided up into 100x100 meter blocks. Focusing primarily on the built-up environment, roughly 50 of those blocks were picked for validation. The image below shows the city of San Isidro with a 2km buffer circling around its central business district. The black boxes represent the validation sites the team visited.
 
Land Cover validation: A sample of 100m blocks that were picked to visit in San Isidro, Costa Rica. At each site, the semi-automated land cover classification map was compared to what the team observed on the ground using laptops and the Waypoint mobile app (available for Android and iOS).

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