By Dizery Salim
Geneva/Santiago, 4 April, 2012 – Recently empowered by the Chilean Congress, local government bodies in Chile are using their increased autonomy to boost community resilience and address risk reduction.
At the 6th Latin-American Congress of Cities and Local Authorities in Santiago, Chile, last week, under the theme, “Stronger local governments,” participants addressed disaster risk reduction in development planning.
“Local governments in Chile are keen to address risk posed by climate variability such as the serious water shortages that are currently affecting several municipalities in central Chile, as well as the disastrous impact that can be caused by interaction between natural hazards and industrial facilities, especially in densely populated urban areas,” said Ricardo Mena, head of the UN disaster risk reduction regional office for the Americas (UNISDR), who was present at the meeting.
Last year, the Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet, introduced a draft law to Congress to “end what many view as a suffocating centralism that cuts off oxygen to the regions and has also suffocated the Santiago Metropolitan Region. This will prevent, once and for all, economic, cultural and political life from being excessively concentrated in Santiago, and enable them to find roots and vitality in every region and corner of Chile.”
The Santiago Times recently quoted a study by Padre Hurtado University which states that strengthening the regions has encouraged infrastructure projects to promote development – through improved water and drainage, and newly built community health centers, schools and secondary roads.
The congress, which took place from 20 to 23 March 2012, was organized by the Latin American Federation of Cities, Municipalities and Associations of Local Governments (FLACMA), and was hosted by the Chilean Association of Municipalities where fifteen cities in Chile joined UNISDR’s “Making Cities Resilient” campaign.
The cities of Ercilla, General Lagos, Los Lagos, San Javier, Cobquecura, Coelemu, Graneros, San Nicolás, Quillón, Trehuaco, Ninhue, Portezuelo, Quirihue, Ránquil, Temuco and Ligua have pledged to uphold the Ten Essential Actions to reduce disaster risks. The campaign was also joined by the cities of Huaquillas and Balzar, from Ecuador.
While at the meeting, Mr. Mena presented the newly developed Local Government Self-Assessment Tool to the congress, developed by UNISDR and its partners as part of the “Making Cities Resilient” campaign. The Tool allows cities to assess where their disaster risk reduction activities are meeting goals or falling short, helping to provide a complete picture of how different sectors of government can contribute to disaster risk reduction.
“Being part of the ‘Making Cities Resilient’ campaign allowed us to measure the impact of our actions and which actions to focus on to strengthen the risk reduction governance in our municipality. It also provides a platform to disseminate and exchange experiences with other local governments that are working on disaster risk reduction, which helped us to evaluate and rethink our own projects,” said an official from Chacao, Venezuela, whose city was one of six in Latin America that have tested the tool.
The Local Government Self-Assessment Tool was tested by over 20 cities around the world, and is offered online through UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient website.
The Tool was also shown at a one-day training session held after the event, involving about 15 municipalities in Chile’s earthquake-prone Bio-Bio region, where a 7.1 magnitude quake was felt on March 25.
With help from the UN Settlements Programme (UNHABITAT) and UNISDR, the Association of Municipalities from Chile’s Bio-Bio region launched a new training programme last year for local level disaster risk reduction and development, with support from the City of Geneva, a member of the “Making Cities Resilient” campaign, and Swiss NGO and campaign partner, l’Association Territoires Solidaire.