Montevideo is a region with the highest population density in Uruguay; with just over 1,3 mil. inhabitants (INE, 2011) and has the one of the smallest surface areas (530 km2). Mildly undulated plains and reasonable water resources characterize its geography. There is a wide coastal strip by the River Plate with arches of beaches of great recreational and tourist value; Santa Lucía river in the west that supplies the region with drinking water and three urban watersheds similar to Pantanoso, Miguelete and Carrasco streams. From an economic point of view, it is the main industrial and commercial activities concentration in the country and has the highest rates of human development and per capita GDP.
The Pantanoso watershed in Montevideo was identified as the most vulnerable to threats of intense rains and floods and the area has the highest number of settlements on its banks. Strong winds and intense rains bring high water levels or floods in some urban watersheds and sporadically affect the local population.
Both the local population and governmental authorities have never had specific training in disaster risk management for floods. Therefore, they prepared the necessary skills to be able to handle disasters of the nature.
A project for capacity building at a local level for Climate Related Disaster Risk Management was implemented. It aimed at strengthening the local communities in Montevideo Department on climate change and variability adaptation. Cultura Ambiental carried out series of activities that significantly contributed to the expansion of knowledge on climate related disaster risk management.
The activities were carried out along with the Pantanoso stream watershed in Montevideo Department. The initiative sought to contribute to the creation of exchange networks between neighbours and decision makers, in order to have an effective implementation of local plans of disaster risk management as well as creating a platform for active participation of the local emergency commissions.
A forum to prevent risks for local referral agents was started in order to reduce social vulnerabilities at the municipalities associated to the Pantanoso stream watershed. A preliminary mapping of vulnerable or flood-prone areas and the analysis of issues was done together with the social area of the Zonal Community Centres (CCZs).
The initiative was supported by the disaster risk management agencies, the National Emergency System (SINAE) and the Coordinating Centre for departmental Emergencies (CECOED) of Montevideo. In the program, lack of shelters in the zone and the deficient conditions to lodge the evacuated population were identified as weaknesses, considering that the only available current facility is the Mercado Victoria which is insufficient regarding bathrooms, water supply and breakages.
Certain neighbours were identified for their capacities as referents in the zone by delivering information acquired through life experience on the effects of floods and “sudestadas” (heavy storms from the South), with fine knowledge of the families, issues and evolution of the settlements. This source of information is of great value at the time of defining local emergency plans and in order to count on implicated actors.
• The civil society occupies a key place as a link to the community, a generator of local knowledge and support to the creation of instruments of management. The civil society should be involved in the program implementation as soon as possible.
• Community participation: It is fundamental to identify current spaces for communal participation and to promote its action, encouraging its link to social organizations and the authorities for successful initiatives.
• Strengthening the vulnerable communities upon climate risks represents a key tool for the IWRM, since it contributes to empower the population, engaging it in the different spaces of water management and in jointly defining the best strategies of organizing the territory in order to contribute to trim the vulnerabilities.
Photo credit: Lucía Matteo