The Bartlett Development Planning Unit
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    The Amazonian city in Peru at crossroads

    By Giovanna Astolfo, on 3 August 2017

    The contemporary urbanisation of Amazonas is a geopolitical creation, and a recent phenomenon. For long time native communities have been living in sparse, often isolated, settlements. Adapting to the mutable conditions of the river, they created a system based on mobility, economic diversification and ‘multi-sited territorial appropriation’ (Peluso and Alexiadis, 2016). Such use and production of space was and still is disarticulated from any single master principle of spatial organization and from usual dichotomies such as rural/urban and public/private. Starting from the 1960s, extractive activities favoured rural-urban migration. Cities such Iquitos, Tarapoto and Puerto Maldonado in Peru, Leticia in Colombia, Belem and Manaus in Brazil grew immensely in few decades. Rural population moved to the cities, settling along the river, often retaining the traditional spatial organisation. Their survival is now threatened by climate change and flooding risk, coupled with recession and growing unemployment following the recent decline of oil extraction. Exploitation of resources prevented the growth of productive activities offering now little alternative sources of income to the urban population.

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    It is in this complex context that the research project Ciudades Auto-Sostenibles Amazónicas (CASA), led by Pablo Vega-Centeno at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), and coordinated by the BUDD alumna Belén Desmaison (PUCP), with the involvement of DPU’s Camillo Boano and Giovanna Astolfo, is developing a participatory process with local communities, local authorities and the national government to co-produce sustainable spatialities and promote alternative livelihoods systems in the Amazonas, starting from local technologies and knowledges. The project aims to create evidence-based methodology for a more participatory implementation process of preventive relocations. The project looks at the city of Iquitos, in the Peruvian Amazon, where a massive relocation process of around 16,000 people living in the flood-prone low-district of Belén is undergoing amid great difficulties and resistance. The government-led relocation has been implemented following a DRM policy released in 2011 and as part of the national programme “Programa Nuestras Ciudades”; despite many positive pioneering aspects, the decision-making process was centralised and the project poorly articulated, failing to capture the socio-spatial complexity of the context. Particularly, the relocation threatens the traditional spatial organisation of Amazon’s communities, negatively impacting the livelihoods system.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Approximately 200 families have been relocated to date. However, the decision whether to move or not is creating tensions and conflicts amongst the remaining groups, as highlighted in earlier research conducted by the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) as part of the research “Reducing Relocation Risk in Urban Areas” led by Cassidy Johnson at DPU.  If, on one side, relocation can improve health condition and security, on the other side it might result in greater impoverishment consequent to the loss of jobs and traditional ways of living. Currently, most of the population is against relocation. Lack of trust in the process, and the polarisation of political parties are poisoning the debate (Chavez, 2016). Understandably enough, relocation is, above all, a matter of the narrative that is created around it.

    Connected through a newly constructed road, Nuevo Belén is distant from the city of Iquitos, and from the Amazon River and its tributaries which are the main source of income. It is an artificial city that looks like a dorm, as few of the planned facilities have been built so far. Each family has been given a lot of around 120 sq.mt., out of which 40 are occupied by the house. The housing typology is far from reflecting the social organisation and the constructive tradition, let aside being suitable to the climate. Reason why most of the dwellers have already transformed the space. Shelters on stilts are popping up where the ‘gardens’ should be, while the concrete houses serve as shops. Productive spaces (‘huertas’) are mushrooming around the houses as a consequence of informal appropriation of land, although under temporary deals – as the land will be soon occupied by the second round of housing construction.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Starting from the ‘huertas’, the workshop that took place in July in Nuevo Belén focused on alternative design proposals for the creation of self-sufficient systems to ensure the economic sustainability of resettlement, and to create new livelihoods options. Proposals, developed by an interdisciplinary team of PUCP students and validated by the community, investigate what technologies and construction techniques are better adaptable to the context in social, spatial and climatic terms (particularly related to solar energy and rain collection).

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Clearly, Amazonian cities posit great challenges, particularly to those communities affected by economic recession, settled on flood-prone areas and at risk of relocation. It is necessary to think a different urbanisation, flexible, adaptive and temporal, more similar to the tradition of disperse settlement of the native communities. Relocation should be conceptualised as an urbanism in flux characterised by interconnected mobilities and heterogeneity (Browder and Godfrey, 1997); and its open spaces should not be purely private nor merely public and should be understood as in-between spaces, reproduced through mobility that is constitutive of this urbanity in flux.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA


    DPU’s Camillo Boano and Giovanna Astolfo are involved in the research project Ciudades Auto-Sostenibles Amazónicas (CASA) that looks at the Amazonian city of Iquitos. The project is led by Pablo Vega-Centeno of the Centro de Investigación, Arquitectura y Ciudad (CIAC), Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), and coordinated by Belén Desmaison (PUCP and DPU alumna). As part of the project, in July Giovanna Astolfo participated to the workshop ‘Taller Partecipativo’ in Nuevo Belen with CASA team and students from PUCP.

    https://casapucp.com/

    CASA is part of the CRC Initiative funded by CDKN, IRDC and FFLA. https://crclatam.net/

    Climate-induced resettlement risk

    By Charlotte A Barrow, on 29 November 2016

    I attended the Hugo Conference in Liège/Luik, Belgium from the 3rd – 5th Nov. 2016. The conference marked the creation of The Hugo Observatory for Environmental Migration at the University of Liège, named for the Australian migration scholar Graeme Hugo. Designed to feed into the UN Climate Change Conference (COP22) taking place in Marrakech a few days later, the conference focused on two areas that seem to be gaining attention in the global research and policy landscape: migration and climate change. Notwithstanding recent discussion on the interplay of these processes at high-profile events like the Habitat III conference in Quito, the merging of these two fields is relatively new. Thus, the majority of academics and policy-makers attending in Liège were expert in one or other of the fields – but not both; lending the conference a sense of forging new ground.

    Teddy Kisembo from Makerere University, one of our project partners, presenting at the Hugo Conference

    Teddy Kisembo from Makerere University, one of our project partners, presenting at the Hugo Conference

    I was there to present on the project Reducing Resettlement and Relocation Risk in Urban Areas which I’ve worked on for the past year with DPU colleagues Cassidy Johnson, Colin Marx and Giovanna Astolfo, together with our international partners Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), and Makerere University. The focus of the research project is resettlement and relocation (R&R) policy and practice within and between cities, viewed from the lens of disaster risk reduction. We’ve looked at multiple drivers for R&R (e.g. decision-making, valuing processes, cost-benefit analyses etc.), from a variety of perspectives (individuals and households, neighbourhoods, governments) in urban centres in 5 countries across 3 continents. The project culminated in a workshop in Quito during the lead-up to Habitat III, which brought together 60 international academics, policymakers and representatives of NGOs with a special interest in R&R.

    Participants at the Reducing Relocation Risks workshop in Quito, Ecuador, 14th Oct. 2016

    Participants at the Reducing Relocation Risks workshop in Quito, Ecuador, 14th Oct. 2016

    Our research thereby forms part of the picture of environmental migration, by considering for example the role of climate change in increasing disaster risks and the ways this can lead to ‘voluntary’ or ‘involuntary’ movement of populations, as well as a focus on the need for more practical measures and implementation innovations to address the on-going problems plaguing many government interventions. However, while covering a wide geographic spread, our research takes a local, urban perspective and thereby differs from much of the work in the field that operates on a more macro level by interrogating international mobility flows and barriers and potential planning and policy implications globally.

    Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Flooding is a major problem in many urban centres. Photo credit – Sunil Kraleti

    Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Flooding is a major problem in many urban centres. Photo credit – Sunil Kraleti

    In my presentation in Liège, I spoke about some of the key aspects of R&R within a disaster risk reduction framework, such as urbanisation and the pressure this puts on local governments’ resources and planning capacities. In my view, one of the most important aspects of R&R is the specific politics of decision-making in each initiative; e.g. who decides when a settlement is ‘untenable’ or a risk ‘un-mitigable’? What agendas are these decision-makers fulfilling? What importance is given to the value systems and long-term development needs of the populations at risk? R&R approaches that focus solely on the immediate imperative of getting people ‘out of harm’s way’ and ignore longer-term outcomes are partly enabled by the often theoretical and future-looking nature of risk and of climate science. This interacts with the language and popular understandings of climate change. While many incidences of migration are spurred by disasters resulting from environmental instability experienced by populations, R&R initiatives cloaked in the rhetoric of climate change mitigation and adaptation can at times mask a range of other drivers, and may do more harm than good for vulnerable populations.

    These issues have been considered in varying depth in a range of locations through our and others’ research, but there is still a lot of ground to cover. One of the recent outputs of our project was a series of four policy briefs: one for each region included in the project and one that built on the outcomes of our Quito workshop (available on our website, see link above). This is hopefully a small contribution to addressing the enormous global need for a shift to thinking about climate-induced R&R that takes into account longer-term development planning needs.


    Charlotte Barrow is a research assistant at UCL working on projects relating to climate change and urban resilience. She has lived and studied in Canada, Sweden and the UK and is beginning a PhD on the use of local knowledge in climate change adaptation.