Published on:

21 December 2018

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Flooding has affected Latin American countries for centuries. But with increased flood damage in recent years and changing weather patterns that make for an uncertain future, several nonprofits have teamed up to explore how natural and nature-based methods might play a larger part in the region’s flood management plans.

In late 2017, Practical Action, an international nonprofit, held a workshop with WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to discuss the potential for nature-based flood management methods in Latin America. Through workshop sessions and discussions, Practical Action developed a working paper to encourage policymakers to implement these methods in their disaster risk reduction plans.

The paper, officially named “Adopting nature-based solutions for flood risk reduction in Latin America,” is available on Practical Action’s website. It notes that in recent years, national governments in the region have taken greater action to mitigate flood damage, including detailed analysis of disasters and collaboration with local governments to prevent disaster damage.

However, the paper adds, “disaster management strategies in the region often prioritise costly and engineered infrastructure solutions overlooking the potential of ecosystems for addressing climate risks.” These engineered solutions — for example, structures like dams — often mitigate a problem but inadvertently transfer risk from one area to another, rather than addressing the region as a whole. “It is therefore vital for the countries in the region to take [a nature-based solutions] approach as a cost-effective alternative to reduce vulnerabilities,” says the paper.

Nature-based methods have already been adopted to reduce disaster risk in several cases in Latin America, the paper notes. For example, WWF’s Guatemala office translated WWF’s Green Recovery and Reconstruction Toolkit into Spanish and leads trainings on the use of nature-based disaster recovery in several Latin American countries. And policymakers in northern Peru developed a river basin management plan, which includes nature-based measures, for the flood-prone region. WWF in Colombia is working with the government and local partners to ensure environmental factors are considered during reconstruction from the 2017 Mocoa floods and landslides.

“Yet many of these initiatives are stand-alone projects,” says the paper. “If a coordinated and common strategy is considered, it will strengthen the adoption of the approach at a national and regional scale.”

The paper ends by listing several recommendations and potential benefits of using nature-based methods in flood management. For example:

  • Ecosystem-based flood management approaches complement traditional engineered approaches. “Healthy ecosystems can increase the value of engineered solutions and enhance their ability to manage flood risk in large basins.”
  • “Nature-based solutions provide an opportunity to better integrate the agendas of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.”
  • Building back safer and greener after disasters promotes greater resilience in the event of future disasters.
  • Working with local actors — whether businesses, municipal governments or community members — not only engages them in the planning process but also provides a vital local knowledge base.