Bolivia’s path to urban resilience

Source(s): World Bank, the

Imagine you live in a city that floods, sometime for weeks, after extreme rainfalls.

Imagine you live in that flooded city, where you and thousands of your neighbors must find a place to stay till the water has receded, and you finally can get back home, with the fear of finding it devastated.

The city of Trinidad is a place like this, located in Bolivia’s Amazonian low-lands, and with heavy prolonged precipitation, rivers, lagoons and lakes rise, affecting thousands of families.

Overall in Bolivia, 43% of the population lives in areas of high flood risk. Trinidad and other cities in the low-lands experience inundations, while in La Paz, Bolivia’s political center, frequent landslides lead to fatalities and damage to housing and infrastructure.

Why is it that cities can be particularly risky?

A key reason is high population density in comparison to rural areas, which is exacerbated if urban areas are expanding without adequate planning: new settlements may be built on unstable slopes or in flood plains of rivers, with unsuitable materials and not following building codes.

In a country with rapidly increasing urbanization, risks must be managed carefully – and Bolivia’s urban population is clearly growing, especially in intermediate cities: for instance, in Cobija, a small city with a population of 46,267 (census 2012), the number of inhabitants has doubled over a period of 10 years.

In addition to natural hazards, cities are exposed to other types of shocks and stressors such as pollution, congestion, lack of services such as water and sanitation, as well as social and economic distress.

In La Paz, poverty and inequality are two major stressors affecting the city, access to basic services is below what is expected from such a highly-urbanized city and limited access to affordable housing is becoming a challenge.

To reap benefits from urbanization while minimizing threats to the population, comprehensive and resilient urban planning and management is needed.

Urban resilience is a holistic concept that aims at the development of cities that, despite shocks and stressors from natural hazards or of socio-economic or political nature, maintain or quickly reestablish provision of essential services and functions, and adequately adapt to medium- to long-term changes.

Key qualities of such cities are Robustness towards potential shocks and stressors, Coordination between city systems and agencies, Inclusiveness integrating all groups of society, Redundancy of systems to permit alternatives in the case of failure of one link, and Reflectiveness to allow for continuous learning and evolving from past experiences.

Aware of the need to develop a comprehensive approach to urban development, the government of Bolivia has decided to embark on the development a comprehensive policy. The idea is to accompany this policy by adequate regulations and instruments to ensure resilient, sustainable and smart growth of cities.

In order to support countries like Bolivia in the process of building urban resilience, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) have launched the City Resilience Program, and is currently exploring with the government of Bolivia how to best assist in the policy development and application in pilot cities. Stay tuned.

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Hazards Flood Landslide
Country and region Bolivia, Plurinational State of
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