Could you tell us what your lates book "Living in harmony with nature" is about?
This book is a compilation of my 38 years experience in disaster reduction, put in really simple words. It is a book for everybody who is dealing with building construction such as engineers, architects and sociologists. While working on the book, I wrote it in a way so that it could be understood not only by professionals in a wide range of fields, but by students too. I hope it can be used as a textbook in the universities.
You have worked a great deal on sustainable cities, can you explain to us what exactly is the project about?
Large and medium size cities are expanding in population and moving towards high hazard zones which make them increasingly risky for residents. In 1998, Peru initiated a program called “sustainable cities”, with the support of UNDP (I participated in the project). We defined four levels of hazards for each city included in the project and described what should be done according to the level of hazards. For example, a highly hazardous level under which it will be forbidden to use the land under these sectors for urban purposes; a second level where urban use will be permitted but only after conducting detailed studies beforehand; a medium level which will be suitable for urban use; and a low level which is considered as ideal for high density urban use for location of hospitals, schools, police stations. Cities like Chiclayo, in the pampa of reque in Peru was one of the first cities to be studied, and we prepared maps and defined all the criteria I mentioned earlier. By the end of May 2004, 30 Peruvian cities had adopted building codes that were approved by community leaders.
These cities are sustainable cities because they are safe, orderly, healthy, culturally and physically attractive, governable, efficient in their functioning and their development without having a negative impact on the environment and cultural sites.
Why the title “Living in harmony with nature”?
We have to come back to what Mother Nature has taught us, applying the lessons we have learned to reduce disasters. The vulnerability of the human species and its organisation is not necessary fatal. The less vulnerable humans are, the less serious will be the impact of hazards when they strike. When intense or extreme natural phenomena occur, man can protect his own life, reduce vulnerability and minimize risk inherent to his constructions by locating his dwelling places in low hazards areas. This is why we must learn to live in harmony with nature, listening to nature’s wisdom, and taking care not to destroy the defenses she has to offer.
You have been working on disaster reduction for more than 38 years now. What are the main obstacles to achieve a culture of prevention?
Although a sufficiently large body of knowledge is available to enable us to mitigate the effects of disasters effectively and economically, it is yet to reach politicians and local governments who make important decisions on how to run the country, nor has it reached earth science professionals and engineers who determine the technical measures for mitigation. Of even greater concern is that an immense mass of poor people in developing countries can lose their lives because they simply do not know how to protect themselves.
We have to persuade governments that the cost benefit ratio of disaster reduction and mitigation is highly favourable, as it permits the sustainable development of nations and requires very little investment, in comparison with the enormous sums of money required to rehabilitate areas impacted by natural disasters.
There is an imperative need for regional planning and land use. Education is a fundamental task, the coordination between institutions in the public and the private sector are also essential. If compliance with national codes were made a requirement for taking out an insurance policy, premiums could be reduced. It is just an example of how we can all work together.