Colombia: Quakes, mudslides, an active volcano: Inside the world's riskiest city
By Mat Youkee
Manizales has become a global reference for disaster risk reduction. On the walls of the Colombian Geological Survey office, a dozen plasma screens relay seismic activity, satellite imagery and webcam footage of the nearby volcano. With nearly 150 sensors and data points, Ruiz is one of the most closely monitored volcanoes in the world.
In the city’s outlying poorer neighbourhoods, meanwhile, work is in progress to stabilise the grassy hillside slopes with concrete, and to dig runoff channels to mitigate floods. The city has a map that evaluates risk down to individual buildings. Sensors also provide automated, real-time analysis of floods and earthquakes.
The city’s particular success is based on policy, rather than technology. Colombia already requires all municipalities to undertake thorough risk assessments and mitigation activities – but disaster-risk reduction suffers from a lack of political will. Governors and mayors tend to view visible projects, such as schools or sports stadiums, as better investments for their own political prospects rather than spending on more prosaic disaster resilience, which pays off at some undefined point in the future. Nearly two-thirds of the regional land-use plans required by Colombia’s national system have yet to be implemented.
The city funds its projects through a variety of methods. There is an environmental tax. A cross-subsidised collective insurance premium is charged on properties, meaning higher-income sectors cover poorer groups. Tax breaks are also on offer to homeowners who reduce the vulnerability of their properties.
Each October the city holds “prevention week,” in which emergency drills are practised, not just for natural disasters, but for traffic accidents and fires, too. This year the focus is on training Caldas’s 60,000 schoolchildren – often the most vulnerable in a disaster – on how to react to earthquakes and landslides.
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