City Plan Aims for Flood-free Growth in Argentina’s Santa Fe

Bolstering flood defenses and moving families away from risky areas are high on the agenda for Argentina’s Santa Fe as the river port city looks to grow its economy and improve its infrastructure under a new urban plan.

The inland city of around 400,000 in Argentina’s Pampas region also aims to cut violent crime, boost social inclusion and kick-start projects including a new airport, as it tries to create jobs and become better connected, said Santa Fe’s chief resilience officer, Andrea Valsagna.

Like many Latin American cities, as Santa Fe has expanded, new residents have settled in low-lying areas, she noted.

“The challenge is to organize the growth of the city in a way that reduces the risk of floods,” said Valsagna by telephone from Santa Fe in northeast Argentina.

The new resilience strategy will help position the city to “deal with the problems climate change is generating in the region,” she said, adding that heavy rains and flooding are likely to increase.

Santa Fe lies near the junction of two major waterways — the Parana and Salado rivers — and suffered serious floods in 2003 and 2007, which forced mass evacuations.

The city now has early warning systems in place, and relies on costly infrastructure made up of 40 miles (64 km) of defenses and pumps that help minimize flood risk from the rivers.

The new strategy — released under the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, a global network of cities working to tackle modern-day shocks and stresses — said Santa Fe had taken steps to reduce its vulnerability, but work was needed to bolster flood defenses, drainage systems and other critical infrastructure.

Santa Fe is one of Argentina’s oldest cities, with over 70 percent of its territory made up of rivers, lakes and marshes.

An effort to relocate nearly 4,000 people living in 1,500 homes situated in flood-prone areas and curb informal settlement must consider how to integrate communities, and provide education and job opportunities, said Valsagna.

“The problem of families in low-lying or informal settlements is multi-dimensional, and you can’t just think about the housing problem,” she said of the city which suffers from a shortage of accommodation.

“It’s very difficult to generate alternatives for many of these families — they have a history in these places … they have their links with work, schools, health,” she said.

Crime and waste

Major infrastructure projects, such as the proposed new airport for the regional capital and relocation of its river port, would broaden opportunities for economic growth and jobs, besides improving transport links, said Valsagna.

Santa Fe is expected to funnel 10 percent of its municipal budget into ways of making the city more resilient. City authorities are also talking to regional development banks, the private sector and the national government about funding the port and the airport, she said.

Reducing crime is another big challenge for Santa Fe, where homicides reached 22 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2014. Young men from poor, underserved neighborhoods are most at risk, while police corruption and a weak justice system compound the issue.

Valsagna said a new observatory would analyze crime in the city, which is seeking ways to bring more jobs and services to inhabitants of its poorest areas.

Other goals are to improve drainage and waste services in the city where more than 600 families, including children, make a living out of informal rubbish collection and are exposed to health risks and poor sanitation, said the report.

Santa Fe wants to halve their number within the next five years by offering alternative sources of income.

Santa Fe Mayor Jose Manuel Corral noted in the report that cities around the world are facing complex challenges.

“We believe that a resilience approach will allow us to tackle this complexity, putting the focus on the capacity of communities to face crises, prepare themselves for acute impacts but also to deal with and overcome chronic stresses,” he wrote.

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