Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Integrating complexity of social systems in natural hazards planning: An example from Caracas, Venezuela



In December 1999, days of heavy rain on steep slopes north of Caracas, Venezuela triggered massive mud and debris flows, killing tens of thousands. Partly in response to this disaster, a multidisciplinary team of urban planners and Earth scientists from Columbia University recently developed a framework plan for building disaster resilience into the Venezuelan capital region. After assessing the complex intersection of urban geography with severe seismic and hydrologic hazards, substantial recommendations were made to local and regional authorities on future hazards mitigation.

Areas found most at risk in the Caracas region include the transportation and utility infrastructure and the friable building stock of squatter settlements. Recognizing realistic economic and socio-political constraints on implementing change, a prioritized list of goals and activities was constructed, and recommendations made along various time scales. Immediate disaster-avoidance goals (to be completed within 1 to 5 years) include strengthening critical infrastructure nodes, housing stock, and emergency services. More intermediate goals (5 to 10 years) focus on upgrading fragile housing units, creating detailed hazard maps across the city, and incorporating disaster education into cultural activities. Recommended activities for the long term (beyond 10 years) include creating a fully redundant transportation and water delivery network, establishing legitimate land title for squatters, and re-locating critical facilities currently in high-risk areas.