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Risk management and Communitary Resilience in Villatina, Medellín.

Updated: Aug 31, 2018

A project to manage risk from landslide and to promote local development and adaptive capacities of vulnerable communities from the periurban settlements in Medellin was developed by the UNESCO Chair on Sustainability, financed by the Barcelona Solidarity Program from the Barcelona City Council, from 2013 to 2017.

Landslides are a threat throughout many Latin American cities. The poor are the hardest hit, as they tend to live in informal settlements that are perched on steep hillsides on unstable ground. Wealthier people tend to live on safer ground, either closer to the city centre or in high-income suburbs that are less exposed. This pattern is observed in cities around the world.

Every year landslides cause loss of life and damage to property in Colombia. People in informal urban settlements are particularly exposed. On September 27, 1987, approximately 500 people died in a landslide in the Villatina neighborhood. That day, at 2:40 in the afternoon, 20,000 cubic meters of the northeastern slope Cerro Pan de Azúcar in Medellín (Colombia) were detached. The avalanche rushed at high speed over the upper part of the Villatina neighborhood (in the Villa Hermosa community) and caused the death of approximately 500 people. It also destroyed some 70 houses on a plot of approximately 1.2 hectares and generated at least 1,000 victims.

The Camposanto Ecopark is located in the district of Villatina, commune 8 in Medellín, Colombia. It is an environmental and memory space built in 2010 by the local administration, near the place where the tragedy occurred. In reality, there is the problem of non-appropriation of the Ecoparque by the community, due to the scarce social structure in the area, which has resulted in a deterioration of the infrastructure and the lack of integration of the community with the public space.

With support from local government, researchers from the UNESCO Chair on Sustainability and UNESCOSOST Colombia (UPC-TdeA) Joint Office, developed an initiative that tried to work on the mitigation of the environmental risks from landslide and, at the same time, promoting local development and adaptive capacities of vulnerable communities, strengthening the social fabric by developing participatory processes to develop the community capacities to land management.

A course on bioengineering for sustainable risk management was developed in 2015, with the assistance of 40 members of the community. The course lasted 140 hours theoretical and practical, and was aimed at training the community on the bioengineering techniques used for landslide risk mitigation and for sustainable water resources management.

A demostrative project to manage river basin was developed by members from the community directed by the engineers from the UNESCOSOST Colombia (UPC-TdeA) Joint Office using bioengineering techniques such as bamboo stake fences "trinchos", buffer strips and a biofilter to improve water quality.

Camposanto Ecoparque Villatina project had been a demonstrative experience that can help similar processes in other similar urban areas in Latin America. The project focuses mainly on the achievement and positive influence on the following specific objectives:

  • Strengthening local capacities and institutional presence of public entities of Medellin in the Villatina sector through technical – communitarian diagnostic work that allows to know the social and environmental sector reality, improving vulnerability management and risk in these areas, as well as the provision and use of ecosystem services.

  • Strengthen the social fabric and local development by conducting participatory community activities that empower the community and generate solutions that improve their life and environment quality.

  • Strengthen the social fabric by developing its adaptive capacity, to reduce social and environmental vulnerability created by risk situations, such as extreme weather events.

  • Enhance the entrepreneurial capacity of Villatina citizens, encouraging them to develop viable ideas and productive projects about social and environmental protection, aimed to reduce local vulnerability, by developing a Community Business Course with involvement of promoting institutions.

  • Spread the participatory Ecoparque Camposanto Villatina Project in Colombia, Barcelona and other cities in Catalonia and Spain, by information and communication sessions within The Ecoparque Camposanto Villatina Week in Barcelona, as well as an international itinerant exposition.

Social Issues: Strategies used to find solutions. Involve directly affected people in the improvement processes ensures greater commitment and improve the communication between all stakeholders.

The inclusion of the population in work teams to reduce social barriers, would facilitate an integrated approach to achieve the common goals. It is essential to use engagement strategies specifically designed to draw on knowledge, initiatives and experiences. 

  • Reduce vulnerability to weather extreme events and landslides, with use of sustainable technologies such as biofilters, bioswales, built with bamboo.

  • Vulnerability and risk communities reduction, increasing capacities for adverse situations, through participatory processes that promote social cohesion and strengthening communities, sharing objectives and inclusive benefiting compliance and self – management project.

  • Improve the use efficiency of water resources through appropriate technological strategies to manage the area water balance, specially water runoff and rain.

  • Recovery of natural spaces through autochthonous elements, such as flora, faunal and recycled materials, transforming degraded areas in referent landscapes by the community.

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