Disaster relief: creating models for sustainable services, infrastructure, and institutions

A comprehensive response to disaster is essential not only to mitigate potential financial and human losses, but also because it provides a model of what it takes for a community to survive. In addition to providing this baseline measurement of what survival means for a community, the process of designing emergency response for informal or marginalized groups is a form of inclusion, which can then be leveraged and broadened. The process of responding to an emergency in an informal settlement documents the settlement’s existence, which is a critical step in bringing it into the full fabric of the city. Finally, the urgency demanded by disaster response operations mirrors the urgency of responding to the conditions of daily disaster and chronic catastrophe that exist in these communities.


Katy Fentress, Nairobi Community ManagerFirst responders in informal settlements: the Kenya Red Cross

Katy Fentress, Nairobi Community Manager

In the early hours of Wednesday 31 October, a fire broke out in Laini Saba, a village in the northeastern section of Kibera. Although the exact causes of the fire remained unclear, the Star made the following report:

"Officials of KK Security, Red Cross and the City Council who through combined efforts put out the fire say there were no fatalities. Kenya Red Cross' Nelly Muluka says close to two thousand people have been left homeless."

Meanwhile in Mathare, on 2 November, a torrential downpour raged through the night; the river burst its banks, claiming the lives of two people and putting Mathare residents, who had already been victims of a flooding disaster during the long rains in May this year, at serious risk.

Fires, flooding, landslides, and structural collapse are the four most common types of emergencies in Nairobi slums.

Informal settlements cover roughly five percent of Nairobi's total resident land area, but are inhabited by well over half of the city's population, which, according to the 2009 Census, stands at over 3 million people. Severe overcrowding, coupled with the fact that settlements are generally located in unsuitable areas — such as on flood plains, on steep slopes, in river valleys, next to dumpsites, or on top of gas pipelines — means that it is rarely a question of if a disaster is going to happen, but rather when and exactly where it will inevitably take place.

First responders

In Laini Saba, the first responders to the fire were local residents, who were joined shortly thereafter by private fire brigades and the Kenya Red Cross.

The Kenya Red Cross, which acts as an auxiliary of the government in disaster risk reduction and emergency response, has special sub-branches throughout Nairobi that provide support to locally trained volunteers in case there is an emergency of one kind or another.

"We work at the grassroots, training people from the community," Kenya Red Cross Communications Officer Nelly Muluka tells us. "We are within the communities that we serve, so our presence and our network is very high. Anywhere that a disaster is happening, including inside the slums, you'll find we have our people."

The Kenya Red Cross runs an SMS and Twitter monitoring system though which users can upload information about accidents and emergencies and alert the relevant response units.

In order to guarantee that the necessary supplies are always at hand, Ms. Muluka explains that the Kenya Red Cross uses emergency response containers that are placed in most of the slums in which they work.

"People that we have trained to act as response teams control these containers," says Ms. Muluka. "Often, if the disaster is small, these local teams are enough to tackle it, but if it is a bigger emergency, then they call out for additional support."

Tackling an emergency promptly and efficiently in a densely populated slum poses an immense logistical hurdle. The areas that are at greatest risk are most likely the areas that are least accessible for emergency vehicles.

Mwangi Wanjani, a Mathare resident who uses his car as an informal ambulance and hearse, tells us: "When it floods in the lower parts of Mathare, the heavily built-up banks of the river become virtually impassable. The only way to be able to rescue people is with mkokoteni [hand carts that resemble Asian rickshaws], cartons, and plastic bags."

According to Mr. Wanjani: "One of the major problems during a big disaster is that ambulances cannot venture too deep into the slums. This means that it is always down to the youth to somehow transport the injured out of the area."

"Three-quarters of the youth groups are our groups," says Ms. Muluka. "We are the ones that have trained them, recruited them, done the drills with them."

Ms. Muluka agrees that precious time is wasted in opening up access points during emergencies. She underlines that the Red Cross train their response teams to be able to provide basic in situ stabilization care to people instead of moving them and potentially injuring them further.

Ms. Muluka stresses, however, that creating awareness is the key to disaster risk reduction, and that the Kenya Red Cross makes grassroots training and community-wide drills with practiced assembly points and exit route strategies a key element in their approach.

There are over a hundred confirmed slums in Nairobi, and most of them are not as well served by emergency response services as Kibera and Mathare. Disasters inevitably happen in such built-up and overcrowded settlements, leaving it down to the men, women, and youth to succour their neighbours and do what they can to contain the damage.

Only with proper slum upgrading or relocation can these problems be tackled in a lasting and effective way.

Carlin Carr, Mumbai Community ManagerIs Mumbai a model for disaster planning?

Carlin Carr, Mumbai Community Manager

Superstorm Sandy pounded the East Coast of the United States late last month, bringing New York City and other major metropolitan centers to a standstill. Just nine days later, a blustery nor'easter caused more power outages, flooding, and shutdowns. Climate change has increased the frequency of major weather-related events like these, and Asia's megacities — many of which are situated in coastal areas — know the rising risks all too well. The question, then, is this: How well would a city like Mumbai have responded to Sandy's wrath?

Disaster in Mumbai and the DRMMP

In the wake of the 2005 floods, Mumbai became more proactive in planning for future disasters. The city, a peninsula with major portions of reclaimed land, is complicated on many fronts. With a high population density and nearly 60 percent of the metropolis in informal settlements, Mumbai faces potential disaster from floods, cyclones, earthquakes, and more. There are 266 flooding spots with 55 chronic flooding areas, according to a presentation by Mumbai's Municipal Commissioner, S.S. Kshatriya, on mitigating disaster risk. Kshatriya also noted that there are 127 areas that are prone to landslide and 57 slums within the high-tide line; more than 700 buildings are vulnerable to collapse.

Witnessing the millions of dollars in damage, economic loss, and human tragedy from the city's devastating 2005 event, the municipal corporation devised a new Disaster Risk Management Master Plan (DRMMP) to address potential threats. The plan was extremely well received, even winning the UN's Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2011. In some circles, the plan has been described as a role model for other cities, with its participatory approach — involving over 100 organizations — and breadth of risk management coverage. For example, the plan was featured in a conference and booklet entitled "Making Cities Resilient — My City is Getting Ready!", which explains that the new DRMMP took into account "resiliency of water and sanitation systems, incorporation of risk parameters into land use planning, construction codes and standards, and slum shelter and housing." The text hails the participatory process for helping "to align and harmonize the Disaster Risk Management (DRM) process."

On paper, the plan is both comprehensive and strategic. Initiatives to mitigate flooding include a major overhaul to the storm drainage system, including widening and deepening some of the city's rivers and implementing nine storm water pumping stations. The multi-million-dollar initiative, called Brihanmumbai Stormwater Drainage (BRIMSTOWAD), was initially conceived in 1993 but was sidelined for cost reasons. Having relaunched it following the 2005 floods, the city has been less than successful in bringing the goals to fruition.

Moving from planning to implementation

While Mumbai's disaster management plan could, in theory, serve as a model for other vulnerable cities, weary Mumbaikers are skeptical of the city's ability to see megaprojects through to completion. Master plans for the city — drawn up every 20 years — are notoriously stalled, and little seems to get accomplished on a broad scale. Those projects that do reach the implementation stage often end up draining the city's coffers.

The BRIMSTOWAD initiative is no exception. An article published last year in the Indian Express says that six years after the "deluge," BRIMSTOWAD is only 60 percent complete and, in the meantime, costs to the city have tripled. The BMC has supposedly expedited the work with a new deadline of 2015, but reports now say that the project is less than halfway to completion. "Out of the total 58 projects that fall under BRIMSTOWAD, only 15 have been completed, while even the tendering process hasn't begun for four major projects that include three pumping stations. The remaining 39 projects are currently in progress," according to a 2012 article in the Hindustan Times.

The reasons given for the delays vary greatly: the municipal commissioner blames encroachment and the need for permissions from other offices, while Nandkumar Salvi, the former chief engineer of the project from 1993, said the project has been sidetracked due to "inadequate planning," and has demanded an audit of the project. Other issues include lack of training, particularly related to the highly anticipated advanced warning system, Doppler Weather Radar (DWR), which, according to reports, has "yet to be fully commissioned" because there are not enough personnel who are qualified to operate the system.

Cost-effective and manageable plans

The BMC has laid out an ambitious and comprehensive plan for mitigating disaster risk. The potential for devastating damage has already been realized years ago; however, implementing these plans has proven to be slow and costly. After Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, outlined learnings from New York's response as well as similarly effective systems in place in Asian cities. The Indian city of Surat, for example, has seen perennial flooding during monsoon season; in fact, the same year that Mumbai was ravaged by floods, so too was this Gujarati city. However, Surat has been able to coordinate across municipal, state, and federal agencies and, according to Rodin, implement "good hydro-meteorological forecasting and effective communication" that made the rainy season manageable this year.

Mumbai is a much larger city than Surat, with a difficult geography and a diverse population to take into account. However, monsoon rains produce a great deal of anxiety for Mumbaikers, who remain scarred by the damage from 2005 — damage that cut across socio-economic lines. The municipality needs to ensure the safety of its residents — rich and poor alike. Plans can no longer remain on paper or hang as awards on walls. Real coordination and implementation need to move projects forward quickly. The city survived another monsoon season, but if the unpredictable weather from New York provides any hint of changing weather patterns to come, the city may face an event greater risk in the near future. The plan is in the city's hand to ward off disaster; it's time to bring it to life and ensure that all Mumbaikers are protected in the wake of a major event.

Julisa Tambunan, Jakarta Community ManagerSedia payung sebelum hujan

Julisa Tambunan, Jakarta Community Manager

Flood preparedness in the high-risk communities of Jakarta can be achieved through a combination of understanding their risks, preparing for disasters, and improved early warning of incoming disaster. Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) led a project called "Program for Hydro-Meteorological Disaster Mitigation in Secondary Cities in Asia" (PROMISE). The goal of PROMISE Indonesia is to reduce the vulnerability of urban communities through enhanced preparedness and mitigation of hydro-meteorological disasters in Jakarta. PROMISE has developed a common understanding of the flood disaster risks in Jakarta, raised public awareness, built community preparedness, and created locally adapted early warning systems.

Musim hujan kembali merundung Jakarta. Masyarakat pun mulai resah. Ancaman banjir kembali menghantui. Jakarta memang tak sulit untuk diprediksi. Hanya ada dua bencana signifikan yang secara berkala terus membombardir kota ini dan membuat sistemnya kacau balau: kebakaran di kala musim panas, dan banjir di musim penghujan. Pusat Penelitian Mitigasi Bencana dari Institut Teknologi Bandung mengkalkulasi bahwa daerah bantaran sungai Jakarta akan terendam sekitar 2 meter pada curah hujan tertentu. Apalagi yang mereka temukan dan apa yang harus dilakuan?

"Kalau tidak banjir, ya bukan Jakarta..."

Ungkapan umum yang sering keluar dari mulut kebanyakan warga Jakarta ini sebenarnya bisa menjadi strategi yang baik untuk meningkatkan kesadaran warga akan pentingnya program pengurangan risiko bencana. Pada kenyataannya, berbagai cara sudah ditempuh pemerintah kota untuk mengurangi banjir di kala musim hujan, tapi tetap saja banjir itu datang. Sebab kebanyakan upaya pemerintah berhubungan dengan pengadaan infrastruktur untuk mengakali elevasi kota yang rendah. Sementara itu, pertumbuhan penduduk yang cepat dan "urban sprawl" tidak diatasi, sehingga banjir tetap jadi langganan.

Jakarta lumpuh jika banjir datang. Jalan-jalan yang terendam membuat macet berkepanjangan. Keadaan transportasi Jakarta jika keadaan normal saja sudah sungguh amburadul. Jika harus ditambah dengan genangan, maka semakin parahlah kondisinya. Hujan sebentar saja bisa membuat lalu lintas mampet berkilo-kilo. Belum lagi keadaan di perkampungan padat dan kumuh. Banjir membuat warga yang punya sedikit uang berlebih meninggikan jalan di depan rumahnya. Tapi apakah ini solusi yang baik? Pastinya tidak. Banjir harusnya disingkirkan, bukan dipindahkan.

Jangan lupa bahwa banjir besar yang terjadi di tahun 2007 menimbulkan kerugian trilyunan rupiah. Banjir ini membuat hampir 10% warga jakarta harus mengungsi dari rumahnya. Apakah mengungsi juga solusi? Tentu tidak. Apapun yang dilakukan setelah bencana itu terjadi tak akan mengurangi kerugian yang ditimbulkan. Semua upaya akan maksimal jika dilakukan sebelum bencana itu terjadi dan jika dilakukan bersama-sama.

Pengurangan risiko berdasarkan kalkulasi ilmiah

Para pakar dari Pusat Penelitian Mitigasi Bencana milik Institut Teknologi Bandung pun datang ke Jakarta untuk ikut berusaha mengurangi risiko bencana banjir di ibukota. Tim ini merintis program intervensi yang diberi tajuk PROMISE, kependekan dari Program for Hydro-Meteorological Disaster Mitigation in Secondary Cities in Asia. Tujuannya adalah untuk mengurangi kerentanan masyarakat perkotaan melalui kegiatan kesiapan dan mitigasi dari bencana akibat air. Program ini merupakan kolabaosi antara ITB, pemerintah kota jakarta, dan Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC).

PROMISE bekerja di tingkat Rukun Warga atau RW di kelurahan Kebon Baru dan SMU 8, sebuah sekolah menengah di kelurahan Bukit Duri. Keduanya terletak di Kecamatan Tebet, Jakarta Selatan, yang merupakan salah satu daerah langganan banjir. Program ini melancarkan intervensinya melalui empat pendekatan, yaitu meningkatkan pemahaman mengenai risiko banjir di Jakarta, meningkatkan kesadaran publik, membangun kesiapsiagaan masyarakat, dan membuat sistem peringatan dini yang sesuai dengan kearifan lokal.

Ketika program ini mulai berjalan pada awal tahun 2008, pemerintah provinsi Jakarta belum punya peta bahaya banjir, padahal program pengurangan risiko bencana harus diawali dengan adanya peta risiko bencana. Jadilah tim ITB mengumpulkan berbagai data yang bisa digunakan mulai dari data curah hujan per area, peta daerah-daerah yang pernah terkena banjir, rencana pengembangan kota, rencana penggunaan lahan, sampai distribusi kemiskinan. Berdasarkan seluruh data yang ada, dibuatlah model banjir untuk menciptakan skenario yang mungkin terjadi agar bisa merencanakan apa yang harus dilakukan. Dari skenario tersebut, tim memprediksi bahwa area bantaran sungai akan terendam sedalam 2 meter jika curah hujan yang sama seperti tahun 2007 turun. Mereka juga membuat indeks tingkat keparahan yang akan dialami oleh tiap area dan berapa banyak lahan yang akan tenggelam di sekitar area proyek.

Berikutnya, mereka membuat analisa kerentanan RW yang didasari dari sejauh mana infrastruktur bisa bertahan jika banjir datang, tipe dan kualitas bangunan perumahan, populasi berdasarkan gender, populasi berdasarkan usia, dan kemungkinan adanya kerusakan kolateral. Barulah setelah itu mereka menganalisa kapasitas manajemen banjir di tiap area, dan apakah telah ada usaha mitigasi yang dilakukan.

Peningkatan kapasitas kesiapsiagaan masyarakat dalam merespons bencana banjir merupakan target dari intervensi PROMISE. Usaha peningkatan kesiapsiagaan ini diwujudkan lewat kegiatan "town watching" atau pengamatan kota sambil mengkaji risiko banjir bersama masyarakat, pembuatan rencana keamanan sekolah bersama para siswa dan guru, serta pengembangan sistem peringatan dini yang mengedepankan kearifan lokal.

Meningkatnya kemampuan merespons bencana

Setelah beberapa tahun, sesuai janjinya, PROMISE berhasil menelurkan sejumlah keberhasilan. Salah satunya adalah temuan bahwa sekolah ternyata merupakan tempat yang sangat tepat untuk melakukan proyek percontohan mengenai kesiapsiagaan bencana. Dengan melatih para siswa, guru maupun petugas sekolah lainnya dapat dilatih menjadi kader-kader yang mampu mengkaji dan mengawasi rencana kesiapsiagaan di sekolah, maupun di keluarga mereka serta masyarakat luas.

Tim ini juga menyimpulkan bahwa tanpa perlu menunggu pemerintah melakukan sesuatu, masyarakat bisa membuat rencana nyata tentang aksi tanggap darurat yang efektif sendiri, mulai dari sistem peringatan dini sampai langkah-langkah yang harus dilakukan ketika terjadi banjir. Kuncinya adalah membangun kesadaran mereka mengenai pentingnya hal tersebut. Partisipasi masyarakat justru dapat diintegrasikan ke dalam upaya kesiapsiagaan banjir pemerintah kota yang bisa menghasilkan perbaikan sistem. Kearifan lokal dapat dimanfaatkan untuk mengembangkan prosedur operasi standar (SOP) untuk tanggap darurat banjir.

Program ini tengah direplikasi oleh pemerintah kota Jakarta di sejumlah daerah lain.

María Fernanda Carvallo, Mexico City Community ManagerEstrategias de mitigación y prevención de riesgos ante la presencia de desastres naturales en la Cd. de México: Los Topos

María Fernanda Carvallo, Mexico City Community Manager

When natural disasters strike in urban environments, it's common to think that the government will take care of damages. However, civil society organizations also engage with both mitigation and rescue strategies. A perfect case study is the Topos, an organization that has helped rescue disaster victims ever since the earthquake of 1985. Nevertheless, there is a lack of risk prevention culture within Mexican society, meaning that the city is not prepared for another disaster scenario like the one in 1985. It is crucial for the population to emphasize prevention education and thereby to diminish the impact of the next natural disaster.

La Secretaría de Gobernación (SEGOB) afirma que México está sujeto al impacto de fenómenos naturales que anualmente causan grandes daños y pérdidas económicas y humanas. Dicho riesgo se determina con base a la exposición de la población a los fenómenos naturales y a la vulnerabilidad de esta misma; el contexto socioeconómico y la infraestructura accesible para la población son determinantes en el nivel de afectación en la población. De tal forma, la población más vulnerable en el Distrito Federal es aquella con menor poder adquisitivo y ubicada en asentamientos irregulares, normalmente dentro de zonas de suelo de conservación, que presentan altas probabilidades de ser afectadas por los embates de los desastres.

Problemática: alto riesgo de desastres naturales en La Ciudad de México

Un estudio de Sergio Puente sobre la evaluación de la vulnerabilidad social ante los desastres naturales en la Ciudad de México, afirma que las ciudades al concentrar a la población implican mayores actividades económicas y sociales por lo que presentan mayores riesgos y exposición a las amenazas naturales.

Según Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón, Jefe de Gobierno del Distrito Federal, la Ciudad de México es vulnerable ante desastres naturales, principalmente ante fenómenos geológicos e hidrológicos debido a que está construida sobre un lago, una zona sísmica y a menos de cien kilómetros de un volcán activo. La línea volcánica atraviesa la ciudad por el sureste, el peligro radica en que sobre esta falla se encuentra infraestructura de vialidades, viviendas y diversas construcciones que pueden tener daños estructurales en caso de sismo, además de la vulnerabilidad de los suelos por la sobreexplotación de los mantos acuíferos.

De acuerdo a la Universidad Iberoamericana, las delegaciones que concentran el mayor potencial de riesgo telúrico son Cuauhtémoc, Venustiano Carranza, Gustavo A. Madero, Álvaro Obregón y Benito Juárez, mientras que Tláhuac, Iztapalapa y Álvaro Obregón pueden ser afectados por desbordamientos. Así mismo, cerca del 60 por ciento de la población de esta última delegación habita sobre minas subterráneas que presentan riesgo de hundimiento y colapso de las edificaciones ante sismos; el 25 por ciento de la población de la delegación Miguel Hidalgo presenta el mismo problema.

En este sentido, se prevé que en los próximos 30 años cerca de 7 millones de habitantes se verán perturbados por desastres naturales climatológicos por lo que hay un alto grado de vulnerabilidad en la región. De acuerdo a Kuroiwa, la vulnerabilidad social ante los desastres naturales se define como una serie de factores económicos, sociales y culturales que determinan el grado en el que un grupo social está capacitado para la atención de la emergencia, su rehabilitación y recuperación frente a un desastre. Citando nuevamente a Sergio Puente, afirma que el principal problema es la incapacidad para hacer frente al crecimiento demográfico excesivo con extrema polarización socioeconómica, pues gran parte de la ciudad exterior está ocupada de manera ilegal sobre tierras de productividad agrícola y de baja resistencia sísmica. Las áreas de asentamientos irregulares no tienen acceso a servicios básicos e infraestructura adecuada de la vivienda, lo cual los vuelve vulnerables ante los desastres. De acuerdo a su estudio, el índice de vulnerabilidad se compone por factores socioeconómicos, infraestructura, calidad y acceso de los servicios básicos y factores naturales. En este sentido, de acuerdo a la evaluación de la Ciudad de México bajo estos factores, las zonas con mayor índice de vulnerabilidad son la delegación Gustavo A. Madero, Iztapalapa y Benito Juárez.

Estrategias de prevención para reducir la vulnerabilidad social

Actualmente la Ciudad no ha vivido alguna catástrofe de gran escala, los últimos fenómenos naturales han sido eventos sísmicos sin daños registrados. Sin embargo, el riesgo de volver a vivir un fenómeno similar al de 1985 es latente. Aquel sismo originó la Brigada Internacional de Rescate Tlatelolco Azteca A.C., conocida como los Topos, por la coordinación de labores de rescate durante el terremoto. El grupo se conformó por voluntarios, qué al paso del tiempo organizaron la brigada de rescate de manera formal regidos bajo la filosofía del servicio a la comunidad. Las actividades de rescate fueron la búsqueda de víctimas sobrevivientes, la recuperación de cadáveres, construcción de refugios, lo anterior bajo la organización de la comunidad.

Por la labor exitosa, sus labores se extendieron al ámbito internacional, en situaciones de emergencia sísmica, entre ellos Indonesia, Turquía, Japón, Perú, Chile, Estados Unidos, Egipto y Haití. Para la implementación de las acciones de rescate reciben donativos de empresas privadas, organizaciones comunitarias y grupos sociales.

En el contexto actual, los Topos afirman que uno de los grandes peligros es que la población no está acostumbrada a estos fenómenos, por lo que olvidan lo ocurrido años atrás y carecen de estrategias de respuesta ante algún fenómeno inesperado. Carlos Cienfuegos, integrante de la brigada hace un llamado a la población para que se prepare para actuar en situaciones de emergencia, así como para implementar acciones que la concienticen sobre los elementos necesarios para la sobrevivencia. Por su parte Los Topos, en alianza con gobiernos municipales, capacitan a los brigadistas y bomberos de los municipios acerca de las intervenciones vitales en situaciones de riesgo y desastre.

En el ámbito de la prevención, el Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI), SEGOB y la Universidad Autónoma de México, a través del Centro Nacional de Prevención de Desastres (CENAPRED), desarrollaron un Atlas de Riesgos; es decir, un Sistema Integral de Información sobre el Riesgo de Desastres para establecer políticas públicas y estrategias efectivas de prevención y mitigación, plantear escenarios de posibles desastres y establecer los planes de preparación y respuesta necesarios, mejorar la toma de decisiones en relación con planes de desarrollo urbano y ordenamiento territorial, estimar las necesidades y recursos que deberán ser destinados a emergencias y desastres y finalmente contribuir a la cultura de la autoprotección a través de la orientación y concientización de la población sobre riesgo.

La información disponible al público genera una conciencia ante los desastres, de manera que la población tome decisiones de manera informada. Con el Atlas de Riesgos es posible que la población tenga acceso a bases de datos sobre declaratorias de emergencia y contingencias climatológicas, búsqueda y cálculo de probabilidad de la existencia de ciclones tropicales, simulador de cenizas volcánicas, estudios acerca de los posibles impactos por el tipo de viviendas de la población, mapas de riesgo en zonas rurales y urbanas por diversos desastres naturales.

Derrumbe del Edificio ubicado en José T. Cuellar en la Ciudad de México: Topos al rescate

A mediados de 2003, varios vecinos que habitaban cerca de la calle José T. Cuellar en la Ciudad de México comenzaron a escuchar crujidos en un edificio que estaba afectado desde el terremoto de 1985 pero nunca fue rehabilitado ni observado por las autoridades del Gobierno del Distrito Federal. Esa tarde, sin explicación alguna el edificio se derrumbó, según Fernando Álvarez, quien es integrante actualmente en TOPOS, nos compartió a URBIM que en un principio se movilizaron varias instituciones de rescate ya que se presumía que habían quince personas aproximadamente atrapadas en el edificio.

Sin embargo, Fernando Álvarez nos comentó que conforme pasó el tiempo Bomberos, ERUM y TOPOS localizaron a las personas que habitaban en el edificio, lo cual les permitió reconocer que solo había tres personas atrapadas por lo que focalizaron la estrategia de rescate.

En este contexto, es de reconocer a organizaciones de la sociedad civil como los TOPOS, que operan con recursos escasos que provienen de donativos de personas físicas y morales, formen parte de una cultura de rescate que deviene de la conciencia de la ciudadanía. Es tan relevante la función de esta organización que ante desastres naturales de alto riesgo son los propios Gobiernos los que buscan el apoyo de esta institución para ofrecer un segundo aire a los afectados.


Haciendo referencia al artículo "Entre lo público y lo privado de los desastres naturales" Jesús Gastelum afirma que a partir del sismo de 1985 que vivió México, las instituciones públicas han invertido recursos humanos y materiales para la investigación en materia de protección civil que sea capaz de identificar cuáles son las técnicas más adecuadas para enfrentar estos casos, cómo reducir el riesgo y cómo capacitar al personal de las instituciones para evitar una catástrofe como la ocurrida en la Ciudad de México. Sin embargo, poco se ha investigado en materia ciudadana sobre las estrategias que la población implementa con respecto a la prevención, capacidad de respuesta en los círculos privados como son el hogar y la oficina. En este sentido, además de las acciones de políticas públicas implementadas por los gobiernos, es necesario que la población esté consiente de los riesgos a los que puede estar sujeta, los mecanismos para prevenirlos y las estrategias para superarlos dentro de sus círculos privados para hacer frente a situaciones que requieren un esfuerzo conjunto.

Catalina Gomez, Rio de Janeiro Community ManagerCentro de Operações Rio: Coordinating city wide prevention, information, and disaster relief efforts

Catalina Gomez, Rio de Janeiro Community Manager

In late 2010, the municipal government of Rio de Janeiro launched a public body called Centro de Operações Rio (Operations Center Rio), known as COR, to coordinate city-wide prevention, information, and disaster relief efforts. This ambitious initiative integrates 30 public bodies involved in the city's strategic management in order to avoid duplication of efforts and uncoordinated interventions. Its main focus is to oversee the city's transit and to ensure its regular flow, as well as to monitor all weather-related situations, such as the heavy rains that cause the landslides and flooding to which Rio is particularly vulnerable.

COR has more than 400 employees, who serve in three shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It has 560 cameras spread out all over the city, which are connected to a control room with a screen that is 80 meters square. This room also receives updated information from several key secretariats, such as the Municipal Secretariats of Public Order, Public Infrastructure, Health, Education, and Social Assistance, as well as other public bodies like the Police and Fire Departments, the Civil Defense, and service agencies like the power company LIGHT, and the water and sewage company CEDAE. It allows integrated information and fast decision-making when needed. It is the biggest network of prevention and relief, the most modern body of its kind in Latin America, and an example to many cities around the globe.

COR has impressive technological devices and information systems, most of them designed by IBM. One of the most relevant devices is a radar that identifies heavy rains in the city, up to 48 hours in advance. A tailor-made system designed especially for the city, it studies detailed meteorological subjects and advises public bodies and local organizations working in early warnings and in relief efforts. Several trained meteorologists work with COR in order to interpret information and translate it into specific recommendations and rapid actions.

If heavy rains develop in a particular area, warnings are sent to all public bodies working in disaster relief. Civil Defense workers assist with early evacuation processes, and Social Assistance workers coordinate local networks of assistance. Residents of all the city's neighborhoods can receive daily information through the internet and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. People without internet, especially those from low-income communities, can receive text messages on their mobile phones as long as they are registered in COR's database.

COR's webpage provides detailed and updated information on heavy rains, possible landslides, and flooding, all designated by geographical area, including information on Rio's Southern, Northern, Central, and Western Zones. COR also releases three bulletins a day (at 6am, 11am, and 6pm) with detailed information on the city's strategic topics, including weather conditions, transit status, airport activity, and emergencies reported by the Civil Defense. It also includes all the relevant contact information a citizen would need in case of emergency.

According to several sources, this project costs US$14 million. Even for cities that may not have the resources to invest in such an ambitious undertaking, there are still some aspects worth considering. Before anything can be built, there needs to be a will to integrate the work of government bodies with that of partner agencies specializing in emergency prevention, mitigation, and relief. Without this will to integrate and coordinate, any investment to create systems will lead to isolated and disorganized responses. Secondly, the local assistance organizations, including neighborhood associations and relief groups, are fundamental stakeholders in the success of such an early warning and response initiative. These groups are the ones that are most familiar with the area, the residents, and their culture. Having them on board and working as active contributors to the network is pivotal to creating an effective system that works both at the city level and at the local and neighborhood level.


Considero que las autoridades locales no han logrado diseñar una estrategia a largo plazo que permita construir la infraestructura necesariar para prevenir y tampoco se ha logrado diseñar una campaña de concientizar a largo plazo para que la población esté preparada ante un siniestro como el de 1985.

A rough English translation of Jesús Gastelum's comment above:

I believe that local authorities have failed to design a long-term strategy allowing us to build the infrastructure needed to prevent a disaster like 1985, and have also failed to design a campaign to raise awareness in the long term so that the population will be prepared before such a disaster.

I like the two points Jesús and others have mentioned, and it sparks for me some thoughts on the Lagos context. Also, it seems Lagos faces similar issues as mentioned in Nairobi and Mumbai -- addressing disasters requires working around and within the confines that informal developments exist within (e.g., lack of infrastructure, densely developed settlements, etc).

Many of Lagos’ slums have developed in low-lying areas; coupled with the poor, clogged (or in most cases) nonexistent sewage and drainage infrastructure systems, these areas are especially prone to annual flooding that accompanies the heavy rains during the rainy seasons (http://bit.ly/V9P9Uh). Over the years, the rains seem to become more and more severe, more and more unpredictable. While the rains during these seasons are pretty expected, climate change-related impacts seem to definitely be taking their toll. Some interesting data from last year’s devastating floods here: http://bit.ly/KpOpER.

At present, the capacity of national disaster teams seems unable to effectively address these challenges when they occur. Response times are lengthy due to coordination, available services and access, physical access is limited in built-up areas, and costs can be high (and often borne by the victim/victim’s family), so individuals, especially in slums, are forced to work on independently or collectively to address their own needs. So for now, whether its annual flooding, or unexpected, unpredictable events like plane crashes (http://bbc.in/Lcg5rh), the result is extensive property damages, injuries, and loss of life.

Katy-interesting article with many similarities to the situation in Mumbai. Ambulances here also have been known to act more as hearses than emergency vehicles, and when they are called to a situation, the vans are woefully ill-equipped. Though they have the potential to bridge the gap between life and death, the emergency responders often are called to transport the already deceased. In response to the need for more efficient and well-equipped ambulance services in Mumbai, a social enterprise called 1298 was founded (http://www.1298.in/). The ambulances are extremely modern and have the latest medical technology. In addition, they have proper training for the first-responders. The sliding scale model allows the poor to use the service as well. Importantly, the organization established an emergency number, 1298 (similar to "911" in the US). No commonly used number for emergencies had existed before this. I wonder if you see this 1298 ambulance and emergency line (perhaps there is one already?) as as filling a gap in the system in Nairobi, and if the model would potentially work there.

Hi Carlin,
I think I remember you writing an article on the 1298 emergency number in Mumbai. Like 1298, the Kenya Red Cross (KRCS) also has very modern and well-equipped vehicles. However while in Mumbai they have come up with a fairly simple number to remember, to the best of my knowledge the KRCS has two numbers: 1199 or 0203950395. None of the people I mentioned this to seemed to be aware that these were the numbers they should call in an emergency.

Generally the cost of the emergency rescue is not an issue for the poor because, as was mentioned in the article, the KRCS is an auxiliary to the government and as such the bills are picked up by the government. This however is probably not the case for the hospitals that admit the victims. In Kenya there is no such thing as free healthcare and if you don't have insurance you will probably be rejected at the hospital entrance if you cannot pay first. That said, I do not know if there is some kind of a system put in place for disaster victims who are delivered to the hospital by the KRCS ambulances (i.e. I just can't imagine how that would work logistically seeing that most of the victims would probably not have insurance or money to pay yet if they are being brought there there must be some implicit assumption that they will be treated)

Also the other problem is that there is only so far the ambulances can get on the treacherous roads of a slum. Most slums in Nairobi have central thoroughfares that are accessible by most vehicles but the little alleys that lead off to the hearts of the settlements are generally too steep, too muddy or too tight for any vehicle to pass through.

Finally there is the security of the vehicles problems. Residents view emergency response units with some suspicion as they often complain that the response times are simply too long. As a result, it is not unknown for vehicles to get stoned or attacked while they are entering the slums or simply for drivers to refuse to go beyond a certain point for fear of what might happen to them.

For a system like 1298 to work in Nairobi there would have to be a clear income generating plan attached to it.... who is going to pay the operators? how will the keep ahead? How will they serve the poor who cannot pay, before the rich who can?

Katy Fentress
URB.IM - Nairobi Community Manager

Siguiendo la lógica que plantea Jesús, es necesario desarrollar infraestructura que pueda atender la demanda de las ciudades como una estrategia de prevención frente a condiciones críticas, como el caso de desastres naturales climatológicos. En este sentido, la rápida expansión de las ciudades a puesto a prueba la capacidad de los gobiernos para hacer frente a la demanda urbana, por ejemplo el mantenimiento de la red del drenajes, de los mantos acuíferos, el manejo adecuado de los desechos sólidos y tóxicos, y todos aquellos factores que deberían de ser parte de estrategias de prevención y que a la hora de enfrentar una crisis ambiental complican la atención de la población damnificada.

Por otro lado, como Victoria comenta, los sistemas de innovación tecnológica son fundamentales para la prevención del impacto de estas catástrofes, sin embargo es fundamental la coordinación de acciones que contemple la participación comunitaria de manera que se puedan dimensionar los riesgos latentes de la población. Por ejemplo, en la Ciudad de México existen diversos asentamientos irregulares en suelo de conservación, entre ellos viviendas asentadas en barrancas o sobre minas, zonas críticas frente a fenómenos climáticos y sísmicos. De tal forma, el tratar de vislumbrar los comportamientos de la naturaleza a través de sistemas de prevención, deben de ir de la mano con acciones concretas que dimensione cuál será la población con mayor riesgo, así como las acciones de mitigación. Es aquí que entra una importante discusión, pues si bien los asentamientos humanos en zonas de riesgo no deberían de estar ahí, los gobiernos no deben de evadir el impacto de los desastres naturales ante esta población.

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