Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
In the Spotlight: Moutain Areas
Experience in Risk Management in Mountain Areas of Argentina: The Integrated
Management Program for the Andean Bi-oceanic Corridor between Potrerillos
and Las Cuevas
Argentinas Mendoza Province, lying as it does at the feet of the Andes, is one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the country. It is also extremely vulnerable to landslides and climatic phenomena such as frost heave and snow-storms. At the same time, it is the setting for a key section of the Bi-oceanic Corridor that unites the Mercosur countries (and the Atlantic Ocean) with Chile, giving them vital access to Chiles ports on the Pacific and the Pacific Rim markets.
The Integrated Management Program for the Andean Bi-oceanic Mountain Corridor between Potrerillos and Las Cuevas is one of the first attempts by Mendozas government to incorporate disaster risk management into the development process by producing a land-use management plan for the area based on the existing risk of natural and man-made disasters. It is the result of a partnership between Mendozas Provincial Directorate for Environmental Management and Urban Development and CETEM, the Center for Mercosur Territorial Strategies of the National University of Cuyo.
The Programs objective is to assess actual and potential hazards along the mountainous section of the Central Bi-oceanic Corridor. It is also intended to define the most appropriate intervention strategies for risk reduction.
This section of the Corridor, in spite of its strategic importance for political and economic integration, remains highly vulnerable, given its topography and the density of roads, tourism facilities and other infrastructure, as well as hub cities along the mountain range. In such a complex system, the failure of any single component has a negative multiplying effect on the entire chain of trade and development, putting at risk the integration process itself.
Ever since the integration of Mendoza into Mercosur and the Corridor, freight trucking and recreational motoring through the area have increased many-fold. While this is highly desirable for a part of the country that for decades remained stagnant and poorly developed, the downside has been an increase in potentially catastrophic accidents. Between 1991 and 1997, more than 10 high-risk situations took place annually due to such accidents and the resultant spill of toxic substances into Mendoza River, the only source of drinking water for the 900,000 inhabitants of Greater Mendoza. The accidents have mainly taken place due to landslides blocking the highways in the area.
A vulnerability assessment was carried out by analyzing differential risk conditions throughout the Corridor and in the mountain villages, based on a multi-hazard approach that looked at the geological, hydrological and climatic characteristics of the area and their implications for proper land-use management.
Function was the key consideration, since the complexity of the system makes vulnerability transcend the merely structural. Thus, the predominant function of some areas was the provision of basic services; others provided chiefly tourism services, while yet others provided strategic trade and border services.
As to the major functions of the Corridor as a whole, they include the following:
From this perspective, it quickly became apparent that major disruptions due to natural or man-made disasters would not only entail the usual reconstruction and rehabilitation costsnot to mention lives lost and homes destroyedbut would also critically affect the economies of all Mercosur countries. Since natural phenomena only turn into disasters when large populations are affected, an assessment was also made of current settlement patterns, future trends, and the attendant risks.
Risk assessments, no matter how precise, are of no value unless there is room to change existing land-use practicesand the capacity for change needs to be not only physical but political as well. Accordingly, emphasis was placed on taking a close look at the following issues:
If disasters do not occur without human intervention, the same is true of disaster prevention and response. Accordingly, an assessment was made of the population in the area, its density, educational level, migration patterns, and degree of community organization. The role and functions of the various stakeholders were identified, as were those deficiencies in communication and organization that might contribute to non-structural vulnerability.
It soon became clear that such an assessment would have to look at two different levels:
One of the key expected outputs of the program was the production of a sustainable land-use management plan that would incorporate risk into the equation. It was based on the premise that:
Intervention strategies and alternative must incorporate the risk variable, including the factors that determine vulnerability. At the same time, in order for land use management to be sustainable, the Corridor must be seen as:
Since risk management cannot be isolated from land use management as a whole, any disaster prevention and mitigation plan must be part of the general land use management plan for the area.
The Mitigation Component of the Plan
Non-structural measures were chosen in order to encourage the adaptations required, while technical and financially feasible structural measures were selected that would reduce vulnerabilityall this with a view to improving the safety, efficiency and competitiveness of the Corridor. Specific objectives included the following:
The process has not been completely successful so far. A parallel kind of change is required: institutional change, as embodied in a greater awareness of the need for preventionparticularly when so many government and private-sector bodies are involved and need to transform their outlook more or less in tandem.
However, the program has succeeded in producing an integrated set of toolsincluding risk maps, an assessment of adaptive capabilities, vulnerability reduction proposals, and the assignation of priorities for action based on sound scientific evidence. Given the strategic importance of the Andean Corridor for reviving the ailing economies of participating countries, it can only be a matter of time before political will catches up with the need for effective, risk-aware, mitigation-minded land use management.