FEATURE: Adapting to flood and fire in Quito, Ecuador
Quito faces great challenges in adapting to climate change. How is the highest capital city in the world faring? After about five years of implementation, the Quito Strategy for Climate Change is starting to pay some dividends, reports Miren Gutierrez of CDKN.
Cities everywhere are facing new weather patterns, making adaptation strategies at city-level ever more important. Adaption challenges in Quito are demanding: With a population of 2.24 million (expected to double by 2025) and located at 2,800 meters above sea-level, Quito’s streets are steep and disrupted by ravines. Regular floods, earthquakes and landslides produce widespread damage, mainly in informal settlements on hillsides.
Quito’s adaptive challenges include the integration of standardised criteria in development planning as well, says Nixon Narvaez, from the Secretariat of Environment. For example, Quito needs to implement consistent adaptation measures in potato farming, he adds in an email interview. Potato is a staple food in Ecuador, and ranks the first among tubers in people’s preferences in Quito, according to a report published by INIAP-CIP.
At a different level, “a bigger challenge is to share agendas with different actors: local governments, communities, city bureaux (such as CONQUITO –in charge of local development— or Quitoturismo), companies providing services (water, public works, mobility, transport), trade unions, and civil society, including activists, NGOs and academia, to generate more openness in the implementation of adaptation and mitigation measures, and to reinforce governance.
Experts agree that commitment to these strategies at all levels, from local to national and international, is key.
“When climate adaptation is advanced with a focus on learning, awareness, and capacity building, the process will likely lead to more sustained, legitimate, and comprehensive adaptation plans and policies that enhance the resilience of the most affected urban areas and residents,” says a paper about the variation in adaptation approaches in Quito and two other cities in India and South Africa, issued by the academic publishing house Elsevier.
The paper notes that “no national laws or policies, international frameworks, or national funding schemes initially existed to guide and support Quito’s efforts to prepare for the impacts of climate change”, until pressing concerns in the mid-1990s moved the City Council and the Metropolitan Sewage and Drinking Water Authority “to start making provisions to secure the city’s water supply”.
Its authors also say that an inter-institutional process to come up with a Quito Climate Strategy in 2007 revealed that it ‘would not be a straightforward task,’ that current climate adaptation measures were considered to be ‘patching’ specific problems, and that a long term vision was lacking.
Then the idea of ‘risk’ was incorporated in the process. And the Quito Strategy for Climate Change (EQCC) was approved in October 2009. It has since become an official environmental policy. By mid-2010, discussions about CDKN support were well underway. Following a joint analysis, CDKN and the Secretariat of Environment agreed on three areas for initial collaboration: an Action Plan, a vulnerability study and implementing the Action Plan.
CDKN provided technical assistance on methodology and workshops to prepare a five-year Action Plan, which contained a portfolio of about 50 projects, of which 21 ideas were granted priority. This required a vulnerability study to consolidate information that was scattered. A ‘Climate and Vulnerability’ workshop held in May 2011 provided a basis for discussions among academic, scientific, technical and political sectors to define guidelines to guide the work of an interdisciplinary team for a 9-month vulnerability study. The International Centre for Research on the El Niño Phenomenon (CIIFEN) prepared the terms in July 2011.
CDKN Alliance partners Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano began this work in June 2011. Recently, Quito hosted the National Summit of Local Authorities at which 80 other participating cities signed the Quito Climate Pact, a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the local level.
CDKN is currently helping Quito with the calculation of its water and carbon footprint, the vulnerability of the municipality’s (DMQ’s) health sector: vector borne diseases, and a pilot adaptation measure. Other organisations that support the implementation of adaptation measures in Quito include the Inter-American Development Bank (AIDB), the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
There is room for improvement, though. “In spite of the big efforts to development integration mechanisms around adaptation, we haven’t been able to achieve optimum coordination at local or municipal level, because of the scale, scope, and environmental, economic, social, cultural and institutional diversity involved,” says Narvaez. He points out that some mitigation initiatives were easier to implement, including, for example, the “strengthening of public transport or the increase of energy efficiency with LED street lights.”
But some of these efforts are already paying dividends. According to Narvaez, the Secretariat, the City Council and the public companies providing municipal services have started forming a common agenda. “The Secretariat of Environment has generated a set of sustainability indicators that allowed us to evaluate sectors such as waste management, water provision, mobility, sanitation, energy, and air quality and pollution. EQCC’s performance has been assessed as ‘medium’ with a potential to improve in rural areas and to stabilise in urban areas.”
“Among the steps toward progress we include improvements in the management of wild fires (another important hazard) and floods, in which more than 20 institutions participate,” adds Narvaez. “The Secretariat of Environment has generated information and knowledge for decisions related to both prevention and response too, resulting in more efficiency in reducing vulnerability.”
Image: Quito panorama, courtesty Quito tourism office (flickr.com)