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Risk and disaster management: The importance of making cities resilient

Source(s):  Association For Women's Rights in Development (AWID)

FRIDAY FILE: In the last two months an earthquake and unprecedentedly high-intensity forest fire have affected Nicaragua and Chile respectively, raising questions around how local authorities are equipped to evacuate populations and assist victims, while also mobilizing resources to alleviate post-disaster situations. In this week’s Friday File we speak to Ana Lucy Bengochea from Community Practitioners Platform, Honduras, about the "Resilient Cities in Central America" (Cantarranas) methodology.

By Gabriela De Cicco

Urban resilience and risk and disaster management

Faced with threats of natural or human-made disasters, resilient cities have the capacity to resist, adapt and effectively recover from these effects. Urban resilience is closely linked to "dynamic notions of urban development and growth".[1]

An interdisciplinary approach to risk and disaster management, which involves different levels of State and civil society organisations, particularly those committed to this issue and those working on sustainable development and climate change, is required for a city to become resilient. As risk management expert, Joaquín Toro, explains, this approach allows communities to know the losses to which they are exposed and to use that knowledge to plan adequately, to take measures that contribute to risk reduction and to be able to respond effectively if the risks turn into disasters.[2]

"Because women are always involved in natural events, they are the first to respond and the ones that organize communities, it is very important that they empower themselves and learn about risk management policies", says Ana Lucy Bengochea. In 2013, Bengochea, a long time Honduran activist, attended a meeting in Cantarranas, Honduras[3]that brought together city mayors and representatives from three cities that are part of the "Resilient Cities in Central America" network. Representatives from Cantarranas, Livingston (Guatemala) and Wiwilí (Nicaragua) exchanged experiences on their risk-reduction work. The meeting issued a document of commitment known as the "Cantarranas Methodology".

A global framework

In recent years, unplanned, fast-paced urbanization and the destruction of local ecosystems have contributed to increasing risks of disasters in urban areas. The effects of climate change and the lack of political will on the part of many States to combat it have compounded this situation and have contributed to the increase in vulnerability of many regions across the globe.

In 2005, United Nations member States passed the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters (HFA). This is the first global Framework that states the need for States, regional and international organisations, civil society, the academia, and the private sector to join efforts. It also "promotes the decentralization of authority and resources to promote local-level disaster risk reduction."[4]

The HFA seeks to significantly reduce the losses to lives, social, economic and environmental assets caused by disasters. The HFA highlights five priorities: a) Ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation; b) Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning; c) Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels; d) Reduce the underlying risk factors through land-use planning, environmental, social and economic measures; and, e) Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels".[5]

In 2010, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) launched the Global Campaign 2010-2015 Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready!, which integrates the HFA priorities and formulates "The 10 Essentials for Making Cities Resilient"[6]. These tools provide local governments and community activists with a general guide (a check list) to address disaster risk reduction, identify strategic areas for intervention and key actions at every step. [7]

The Cantarranas Methodology – A Central American response

The Cantarranas Methodology (CM) is a basic document for building resilience that seeks to establish cooperative links between the cities of Cantarranas, Livingston and Wiwilí that are already involved in the Resilient Cities Campaign. Those who took part[8] in the Cantarranas meeting, including Bengochea, created an intervention strategy with different phases of work based on four[9]of the Global Campaign's "Ten Essentials".

Bengochea explains that the first phase involves producing a risk assessment as the basis for urban development plans and decisions, and to guarantee that the information produced is available for discussion with the different groups involved. She adds that the purpose of the next phase is to see investments in building and maintaining an infrastructure that contributes to risk reduction, i.e. drains to avoid floods or bridges, etc. There is also a commitment to install early warning systems and to conduct periodic drills for better preparing the cities' populations. The CM agreement wants to ensure that the needs of affected populations play a key role in the rebuilding process, and also that individuals and community organizations are supported to design and implement their own responses.

"We share all this in community-based workshops", adds Bengochea, "addressing topics like community resilience or disaster risk reduction, raising awareness about the Hyogo Framework, and the Resilient Cities Campaign. For instance, in Honduras we are trying to map vulnerability, threats and risks, using new technologies, to place shelters adequately for example. This work is done in coordination with Comisión Permanente de Contingencias (COPECO, Permanent Contingencies Commission)".

Different women's groups promote climate resilient development by doing sensitization work, using tools developed by the women themselves and addressing issues like economic development, adaptation and protection of biodiversity. "One of these tools is Seed Banks", says Bengochea. "These Banks use a climate resilient development perspective to promote recovering and valuing autochthonous seeds, while also building and guaranteeing food security for families. Sustainable organic agriculture helps in protecting the soil. The goal is to contribute to a type of development that reduces risks".

In the Honduran experience, Seed Banks stand as the most valued tool. Seed Bank experts facilitate and share their knowledge with technicians who are also producers in the Agricultural Food Platforms promoted by the Honduras Secretary for Agriculture and Cattle Raising. Bengochea says the project seeks to develop programmes with a gender perspective that meet the requirements of the world of production. "This goes together with designing and implementing comprehensive programmes aimed at more vulnerable groups, such as women throughout their life cycle, students, union members, those belonging to specific ethnic groups, and those deprived of their freedom, among other women".

The aim is for the Methodology to become a tool for doing advocacy with local development committees, development committees, community associations and women entrepreneurs. Bengolea affirms that, "We seek to mainstream community resilience, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in all land planning processes, and to create a public policy instrument according to the framework of the law known as A Vision for the Country and a Plan for the Nation (SEPLAN)".

Further reading:

Resilient Cities Campaign:
Campaign Events:
Majors' Statement (in Spanish)


[2] There is an important difference between "disaster" and "risk". See

[3] The meeting was coordinated by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), with the help of the Office of the U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the cities of Wiwilí, Livingston and Cantarranas working together with Community Resilience Platforms in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

[4] Page 12:

[5] Page 12:

[6] 1) Put in place organization and coordination to understand and reduce disaster risk, based on participation of citizen groups and civil society. Build local alliances. Ensure that all departments understand their role in disaster risk reduction and preparedness. 2) Assign a budget for disaster risk reduction and provide incentives for homeowners, low-income families, communities, businesses and public sector to invest in reducing the risks they face. 3) Maintain up-to-date data on hazards and vulnerabilities, prepare risk assessments and use these as the basis for urban development plans and decisions. Ensure that this information and the plans for your city's resilience are readily available to the public and fully discussed with them. 4) Invest in and maintain critical infrastructure that reduces risk, such as flood drainage, adjusted where needed to cope with climate change. 5) Assess the safety of all schools and health facilities and upgrade these as necessary. 6) Apply and enforce realistic, risk compliant building regulations and land use planning principles. Identify safe land for low-income citizens and develop upgrading of informal settlements, wherever feasible. 7) Ensure education programmes and training on disaster risk reduction are in place in schools and local communities. 8) Protect ecosystems and natural buffers to mitigate floods, storm surges and other hazards to which your city may be vulnerable. Adapt to climate change by building on good risk reduction practices. 9) Install early warning systems and emergency management capacities in your city and hold regular public preparedness drills. 10) After any disaster, ensure that the needs of the survivors are placed at the centre of reconstruction with support for them and their community organizations to design and help implement responses, including rebuilding homes and livelihoods. From:

[7] See page 26:

[8] Participants included local officers from Cantarranas, Honduras; Livingston, Guatemala and Wiwilí, Nicaragua; representatives from Huairou Commission/ GROOTS International, Community Practitioners Platform, Defensa de la Mujer Indígena de Guatemala (DEMI), Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Descendants Secretary (SEDINAFROH, Honduras), Technical Secretary for Planning and Cooperation (SEPLAN, Honduras) , National Agencies for Disaster Reduction (COPECO, Honduras) and (CONRED, Guatemala) linked to the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). After two days of work, they signed the Inter-Municipal Pact creating the Network of Resilient Cities that includes the "Cantarranas Methodology".

[9] 3,4,9 and 10
Article License: Copyright - Article License Holder: AWID


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  • Publication date 02 May 2014

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