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Transport and climate change: Putting Argentina’s resilience to the test

Verónica Raffo's picture
Also available in: Spanish


Would you imagine having to evacuate your village by boat because the only road that takes you to your school and brings the goods is flooded?

In February 2018, the fiction became reality for some residents in the province of Salta, northern Argentina, after heavy rains caused the Bermejo and Pilcomayo river to overflow. The flooding resulted in one fatality, required the evacuation of hundreds of residents, and washed a segment of Provincial Route 54, leaving the village of Santa Victoria del Este completely stranded.

Similarly, a segment of National Route 5 in one of the main corridors of Mercosur has been impassable for more than a year because the level of the Picassa lagoon keeps rising due to extreme rainfall and lack of coordination among provinces on how to deal with excess water flows. The expansion of the lagoon is forcing 4,000 vehicles a day to make a 165-km detour, and adds one transit day for the 1,560 freight trains running every year between Buenos Aires and Mendoza. The flooding is dragging the economy behind and inflating already high logistics costs.

As a matter of fact, a recent World Bank study put the cost of damages and disruptions like these at an estimated 0.34% of GDP a year for riverine flooding, plus 0.32% of the GDP for urban flooding.

To address these risks, Argentina’s Ministry of Transport started a dialogue with the World Bank to explore ways of reducing the vulnerability of the network. With grant funding from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), our team initiated a technical assistance project that will provide important new insights into the magnitude and location of current and future flooding risks on Argentina’s multi-modal transport routes (roads, railways, and waterways), and will formulate recommendations for risk reduction. The study will include three main components:
  1. Vulnerability assessment: systematic identification of all transport nodes and links that are vulnerable to flood hazards.

  2. Criticality assessment: in case of a weather event, which parts of the network are most essential to maintaining connectivity? Answering this question can go a long way in helping prioritize, manage, and allocate resources.

  3. Development of an online data visualization tool to ensure the findings of the study can be used widely, and to support effective decision-making.
These activities entail combining datasets on climate and on the transport network to evaluate current and future risks. This will allow us to simulate potential failures and disruptions, and to assess how they might impact passenger and freight flows. The analyses will then be used to estimate the macroeconomic impact of climate-related damage to the transport infrastructure, looking at both the regional and national pictures.

This initiative is a high priority for the Ministry of Transport, in that it will complement and expand engagements that aim to integrate climate change considerations into infrastructure development. In addition to this technical assistance, the World bank is also making climate change adaptation an integral part of its lending portfolio. The $300-million Northwestern Road Development Corridor Project, for instance, will include improved design standards and introduce more stringent road maintenance regimes to enhance climate resilience.  

Disasters like the one in Santa Victoria del Este are likely to become more frequent under the effect of climate change, and their impact on people and the economy will continue to grow. To address this challenge, it is time for governments and international donors to scale up their support to resilience planning. Argentina’s efforts to assess climate risk thoroughly and identify appropriate responses are definitely a step in the right direction.