International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Issue: 13/2006- 12/2006 - 11/2005 - 10/2005 - 9/2004 - 8/2003 - 7/2003 - 6/2002 - 5/2002 - 4/2001- 3/2001

EIRD Global


Flooding in Santa Fe, Argentina, 2003

Document prepared by ECLAC, in collaboration with the United Nations System in Argentina


This research was requested by the Government of the Province of Santa Fe to the United Nations System, in view of the serious flooding occurred last April, as a consequence of a climate phenomenon. The extraordinary magnitude of the rainfall observed caused the unexpected overflow of both the Salado River and its confluence with the Paraná River, which affected in particular the city of Santa Fe, causing floods in this provincial area. This also brought about the loss of human lives, destruction and floods in different neighborhoods of the city, as well as in other towns of the Province. Grazing lands were also damaged and, as result of all this, social and productive sectors were severely affected.

The actions suggested by the UN System and agreed upon with the Government of the Province, included a general socioeconomic and environmental assessment of this event, in order to establish a strategy aimed at rebuilding the city and contributing to its full recovery.

This work was supported by both municipal and provincial authorities, as well as by national government officials. It is worth mentioning that without their collaboration it would not have been possible to carry out this assessment in such short period of time. In a similar manner, the support of the UN agencies was essential –especially when assessing the areas of specialty of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). UNDP, in addition, provided resources to carry out this study, which complemented the resources provided by ECLAC.

The study assesses the impact of this flooding, according to a methodology developed by ECLAC. The document also includes a preliminary list of project profiles in the context of strategic planning that includes some of the initiatives and resources devoted to the process of rebuilding the city. It is expected that this study will contribute to guide and speed up these recovery and reconstruction processes, and that it will lead to the allocation of additional resources, from both internal and external sources, in order to add them to the funds received during the emergency.

Damage Assessment

The assessment carried out by sector, jointly with provincial authorities and in consultation with the private sector and representatives of civil society, is summarized in the following table:


As a result of this study, a number of core elements were identified, which lead to conclude that two different disasters affected the Province of Santa Fe: floods in agricultural areas, which started in 2002 and continued through the first quarter of 2003. This caused the flooding [second disaster] in the city of Santa Fe and other urban areas.

The most noticeable losses have occurred in the social sector, especially in terms of housing. However, if these are quantified, major losses will be found within the productive sector. Cattle, for example, were reduced by 5%; soybean crops were damaged, and the production of both sorghum and vegetables decreased significantly. Grazing lands were also destroyed and, as a consequence, meat and milk production will be reduced in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

With regards to both the industrial and trade sectors, losses were reflected on both the processing and trade of agricultural products. Furthermore, the production of industrial micro- and small enterprises, as well as the sales of micro, small, medium, and large companies and stores decreased considerably. All this also brought about negative effects on both the external sector and public finances (at all levels: national, provincial and municipal.)


A number of paradoxes have arisen after this disaster, in particular with regard to risk management and the environment, as well as concerning the actions needed to cope with natural hazards: the false security of the fact that structural solutions are enough to reduce the risk.

Risk “appropriation” (that is, its perception and assessment) on the part of society (productive sectors and civil society) reduces State burdens in terms of dealing with resulting damages. In other words, if the population does not also assume the risk, it will transfer this task to the State, and the costs will fall on society at large.

The excessive cost in terms of losses and damage (2,878 million pesos) has mainly affected productive sectors and activities. However, in social terms, the fact that the quality of life of disadvantage populations located in marginalized urban areas has deteriorated significantly –given that they lost their housing and belongings, as well as their micro- and small businesses and, therefore, their jobs-, represents a more serious problem.

In rural areas, some communities remain isolated, and the excessive use of surrounding lands still persists as well. This will affect the entire cycle of sowing/harvesting. Additionally, the lack of availability of grazing lands has brought about the reduction of cattle, which will also affect the production of meat and dairy products.

This disaster posed an additional burden to the State– at municipal, provincial and national levels– in terms of those resources required to address social and productive needs, as well as the loss of jobs. Tools must also be developed to reactivate productive activities. This is why this disaster goes beyond the Province of Santa Fe, not only in terms of our readiness and response capacity for recovery, but also because there exists the need to address risk and basin management systematically and at the regional level.

Floods made clear that our social system, infrastructure and productive activities are vulnerable and fragile in the presence of natural phenomena. For this reason, it is essential to address the issues of reducing vulnerability and managing the risk in a systematic manner.

This disaster also put at risk the desired economic recovery in Santa Fe during the year 2003. It also broke the balance of the local economy, which had been able to overcome the crisis of the two previous years, thanks to the export of agricultural products.

Strategy for Recovery

It is considered that recovery must be articulated based on four main elements:

Reduction of physical vulnerability, through the establishment of an appropriate early warning system. Furthermore, risk management should be incorporated into the design of development policies; financial protection, especially in terms of those economic activities at risk, must be promoted among the population; and, finally, a culture of prevention must be incorporated into different educational levels and campaigns in order to raise awareness among the population.

The improvement of the quality of life goes beyond rebuilding or replacing destroyed housing. Besides making basic social services available (such as education and health), it is important to reestablish productive activities.

It is also relevant to articulate the support given to the affected population through ongoing actions, in the context of a general social policy for recovering after a crisis.

The last element is based on need to increasing both cooperation and the articulation of actions at all government levels (local, provincial and national).

Final Considerations

Reconstruction cannot wait until the phase of emergency comes to an end. At this stage, the role of international cooperation may be critical to, at least: (a) promote consensus in terms of those actions to be taken by the government but also by civil society; (b) ensure cooperating agencies that resources will be used effectively; and, (c) enable local and provincial authorities to have access to different sources for future cooperation.

The “opportunity window” to obtain support from the international community will not last. This, because cooperating agencies have to address multiple and emerging demands. Local social pressure may affect the capacity of reaching consensus.

In this sense, this damage assessment and its use is the best tool to obtain the support required, and we should not wait until plans are finalized to submit it to cooperating agencies.

For more information, contact to:
Ricaro Zapata