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Planning climate resilience in Rio’s informal communities

When a group of 30 residents of the Morro dos Macacos, an informal slum community in the north zone of Rio de Janeiro, got together last month (September 28th) in a participatory workshop, they listened, debated, and exchanged ideas to develop resilience solutions that can transform their local community.

Since 2015, WRI Brasil has been collaborating with the municipality of Rio de Janeiro and the city’s Civil Defence to pilot the Urban Community Resilience Assessment (UCRA) in Morro dos Macacos, a community-driven climate resilience planning tool.

The overall objective of this second workshop was to advance the development of a community resilience strategy that strengthens the community’s capacity to prepare, respond to and recover from more frequent climate impacts, such as strong rains and landslides.

“The effects of climate change exacerbate existing risks and present new risks too. In both cases, informal and vulnerable communities are disproportionately affected by climate change. By working with the community and applying the UCRA, our aim was to understand how individuals and communities respond to climate impacts, like strong rains, in order to inform community climate resilience planning to reduce risks. A more cohesive and better prepared community is able to reduce its vulnerability to climate risks”, explains Katerina Elias-Trostmann, senior research analyst in climate resilience at WRI Brasil.

The aim of the workshop was to build on results from the UCRA diagnostic, which measures community and individual resilience by way of 33 indicators. In July 2017, the UCRA diagnostic results were presented to the residents in a participatory workshop, in which they selected the four most critical indicators and proposed resilience solutions for each one. The four indicators residents had selected were: 1) Access to Waste Collection; 2) Political Engagement; 3) Knowledge of Resilience Habits; 4) Number of Neighbour’s Telephone Numbers Saved.

Image gallery: use the arrow keys to go to next RJ - Oficina de Resiliência no Morro dos Macacos

This second workshop was divided into three main activities: 1) vote on three best solutions; 2) map the solutions; 3) identify stakeholders. First, the residents were divided into groups and took turns to vote on the three best solutions for each of the four indicators. Second, on an illustrated map of the community, the residents identified critical spots where the three most voted solutions should be implemented. Finally, the residents identified and listed key stakeholders both within and outside the community who are key for the implementation of the solutions.

Local resident Jorge Ferreira, 72 years old and retired, had identified regular waste collection as a key issue and solution for the community. In particular, he argues that the now extinct program Gari Comunitário (a municipal-sponsored program that hired locals as waste collectors to work in the community) should be reinstalled as a solution. “They [the community waste collectors] cleaned the urban drainage and the community used to be a lot cleaner. Every day they would collect tons of waste and carry it down the hill. Today this doesn’t happen anymore. When it rains, the water carries the rubbish down the hill and increases the maintenance and work for the municipal waste service”.

A key barrier that complicates access to waste collection is the lack of road infrastructure in the community. Morro dos Macacos is marked by narrow passageways and alleys, which do not facilitate easy access for cars and trucks of municipal services such as waste and even health; ambulances have difficulties reaching elderly residents who live towards the top of the hill. Lúcio Fraga works for the city as a waste collector and reinforced that lack of road infrastructure is a key barrier to increase the resilience of the community: “If we could better access the higher locations in the community, it would be easier to collect waste. To improve access, we need more infrastructure and road works. But until that happens it’s important that residents get organised and bring down their waste, to avoid piles of rubbish bags up there”.

Another local resident, Lúcio, approved of the workshop, stating its importance to the community: “This type of activity is important for us. It’s an opportunity for us to voice our needs and demands”. Crébia Cristina believes that workshops like this can help the community to come together and solve their problems collectively. For her, the main indicator to be focussed on is the lack of communication and connectivity between neighbours: “We used to have a community loud speaker that announced news and things happening in the community. Us neighbours should make sure we have each other’s phone numbers so we can swap ideas, alert about what’s going on, and ask for help. I miss a sense of community and participation of the residents. These interaction improve relationships”.

This type of social cohesion is fundamental to ensure that the community improves and transforms positively over time. Flávia Carloni, the Sustainability and Resilience coordinator of the city of Rio de Janeiro, explained that the workshop demonstrated to residents that they too are responsible for local change: “Most of the solutions identified here today by the residents highlight that right now residents must come together and organise to demand improvements. The more communities we are able to work with, the better the outcomes for them”. Flávia also stated that enabling community-driven resilience planning strengthen and improves the work of the Civil Defence.

Inês Mendes works for the Civil Defence and is the regional manager for the wider Tijuca area, which includes Morro dos Macacos. She emphasised that local participation of the community residents is vital for her organisation: “It’s the local residents who have the best knowledge of what the community most needs and wants. When they participate and work together with us, the benefits of what the Civil Defence does becomes more clear to them. We are here for them not only when crises hit, such as landslides, but also before crises occur, in our daily work of risk reduction and prevention of more frequent climate impacts”.

The maps and solutions developed by the residents in the workshop will be summarised and developed into a local resilience strategy that will be presented to the Civil Defence, local planning authorities, the office of Sustainability and Resilience, and to the residents of Morro dos Macacos within a month. Katerina concludes that “A more cohesive community is better prepared to manage and recover from climate impacts. Our objective is to scale and replicate this project to other communities in Rio de Janeiro, to improve and finalise the methodology. Eventually, we want to be able to support other cities too to implement community-driven resilience climate planning that responds to the needs of vulnerable communities that are most affected by climate change”.

Cerca de 30 moradores do Morro dos Macacos participaram da oficina realizada pelo WRI Brasil. (Foto: Elis Bartonelli/WRI Brasil)

About 30 residents of Morro dos Macacos participated in the workshop held by WRI Brasil (photo: Elis Bartonelli/WRI Brasil)

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