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With the economic growth seen in Latin America over the last two decades, large cities in the region have experienced significant demographic growth too, and that has created a new set of challenges for local governments.
Many of these challenges involve the development of adequate infrastructure for transportation, water, energy, health and other public services, as well as financing and management of these assets.
BNamericas spoke to Eugene Zapata, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities network, about how Latin American cities can improve their development in terms of resilience.
BNamericas: Taking Santiago in Chile as an example, a city with serious public transport problems, how can a city make deficient transport systems more resilient?
Zapata: We've worked with cities that have administrative models similar to those in Santiago or Buenos Aires, in which there are actually several administrations classified as part of one city, such as Manchester and Paris. Coordination here is key, because you can't consider mobilization between the urban fringe and the city center without coordination between different entities, and here we see two types of problems.
First, the need to coordinate the works of the municipalities that share the same routes, but also between different levels of government, such as the provincial, municipal and national government.
We visited Santiago's central train station, where the Nos-Alameda commuter train starts its route. That train is administrated by one entity [state-owned rail operator], EFE, but it's also integrated with services that are handled by other entities, the Metro and Transantiago, and there's nobody with the capacity to coordinate them, because there's no hierarchy between these entities. So we have several organisms working in an uncoordinated manner.
BNamericas: Do you believe better coordination would also benefit the projects that are underway to expand public transport and other infrastructure?
Zapata: In March we helped Santiago to publish a development guide aimed at making it a resilient city within the next 20 to 30 years, and one of the six key points that it includes is specifically called "Santiago Mejor Conectado" [Better connected Santiago], which includes connecting not only highways, but also integrating commuter trains and finishing the project to install cycle lanes alongside the Mapocho river. This is something that isn't in the hands of a single authority; it's in the hands of several authorities, as well as the private sector and civil society stakeholders.
We believe that better coordination is not only necessary for a city to continue growing, but also to continue living. And we know that the processes are slow, so that's why we gave this guide to the Santiago authorities.
BNamericas: Santiago and Latin American cities are generally vulnerable to heavy rains. How can resilience strategies be built to address these problems?
Zapata: Our program works with a group of companies, academic institutions and technical consultants in the water sector, like The Nature Conservancy, which has created a water fund in which private sector companies or social organizations that have influence on the use of water, such as mining companies, contribute to a fund that finances projects that aid cities' water sustainability.
These funds are already working in Quito [Ecuador], which is another city in our network, and it's just beginning to be implemented in Santiago. This is one of the solutions we're working with.
We're also working with the Dutch government, since they're experts in climate change topics and they have a special embassy for water issues, and that's part of our network of partners.
We also work with companies. In Santiago, we studied the big risks of landslides in case of rains and visited some infrastructure meant to mitigate this type of event - a series of ponds that reduce the energy of landslides in such events.
BNamericas: Many Latin American cities have water services provided by private utilities. Do you believe that these companies should coordinate with local authorities to carry out these efforts?
Zapata: No. The experience in some cities, such as in London is that, sometimes, private companies don't have an interest to taking water to the urban fringe of the city, so water distribution tends to be concentrated. There's a need for public-private cooperation to take water to those who need it, but with a clear idea that water is a basic service and of public interest and shouldn't be 100% in private hands. Not all of them are bad, but we've had some bad experiences, and the experience we've had with companies that are 100% state-owned hasn't been that bad either.
BNamericas: Do you think that private companies should be taking part in concessions and public-private partnerships aimed at expanding water infrastructure in situations where governments don't have the capacity to fully finance them?
Zapata: Absolutely. Governments don't have the resources and in some cases they've gone into debt that has prevented them from making investments. And water infrastructure is expensive, it requires heavy engineering and works that cause serious alteration to the city.
About Eugene Zapata
Eugene Zapata is Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at 100 Resilient Cities. Prior to this, he was international advisor to the mayor of Mexico City, Latin American regional director for the World Fund for City Development (FMDV by the French acronym), as well as North American Secretary of Metropolis, the world association of the largest cities.
About the company
100 Resilient Cities (100RC) is a network created by the Rockefeller Foundation in 2013 with the objective of providing cities with a view of resilience based on the stresses that weaken the fabric of a city on a day-to-day or cyclical basis, such as poor infrastructure, high crime rates and water shortages, while also giving logistical, financial and expert support, and service roadmaps to cities to overcome these issues.