Building Sustainable Cities in the Caribbean: 3 lessons from Paramaribo

By Luis Schloeter

Climate change is considered one of the main challenges for development. The scientific community has reiterated that anthropogenic climate change – caused by human activities (eg urban transport, energy production, etc.) – has been occurring over the last century, increasing the temperature of the earth, and consequently the probability and intensity of climatic events – precipitation, floods, droughts, among others. If measures are not taken to increase the resilience of Latin American and Caribbean countries, the impact of climate change in the region is expected to be devastating, especially in urban areas.

Paramaribo. Source: División de Vivienda y Desarrollo Urbano

What is the price we pay if we don’t do anything?

According to IDB data, the increase of 2 degrees Celsius from the average temperature to pre-industrial levels could cause losses in LAC equivalent to 100 billion dollars per year by 2050. This means that climate change could undermine the capacity of countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and even reverse the progress achieved in the last decades in human development and economic growth.

In this context, it is important to recognize that cities are critical vulnerability points. The frequency of disasters in the cities of the region has more than doubled between 1970 and 2005. This includes increasingly destructive hurricanes such as Mitch (1998) and Wilma (2005) and two intense episodes of El Niño, which, together with Changes in land use, have caused significant human and material losses. This is why the IPCC emphasizes in its report the need to advance in the development of proposals for adaptation to climate change on the urban scale; Efforts such as those aimed at mitigation.

However, recent studies conclude that unfortunately efforts in this direction are limited. Cities in the region have been the source of many initiatives, policies and projects aimed at addressing climate change, but these have mainly focused on mitigation; and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (eg through the modernization of the public transport fleet by electric vehicles).

We need a paradigm shift that will allow us to incorporate adaptation into the urban planning and management process. The IDB experience in Paramaribo shows us some ideas.

Source: División de Vivienda y Desarrollo Urbano

Adapting to Paramaribo, Suriname

Suriname is exposed to several natural hazards and induced by climate change, including floods, droughts, exposure to heat, strong winds and salinization of groundwater. It is estimated that climate change will affect more than 40% of the country’s GDP by 2050.

Paramaribo, the country’s capital, home to 70% of the population, is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The historic center of the city – UNESCO World Heritage Site – presents serious flood problems due to the flooding of the Suriname River as a result of global sea level rise. In the past year, the IDB, through the Division of Housing and Urban Development has been supporting Suriname to revitalize the historic center and identify complementary adaptation measures.

That is why, in commemoration of the International Day of Adaptation to Climate Change, we summarize 3 lessons learned in Paramaribo on how our cities can advance towards an adaptation agenda.

1 The importance of a participatory diagnosis

A critical step in developing robust proposals for adapting to climate change includes the preparation of good technical and participatory assessments to accurately identify major vulnerabilities at the local level. In the case of Paramaribo, the IDB carried out a study on “Disaster risks and vulnerability analysis of climate change”. For the study was prepared a digital map of the city that allowed the analysis of flood return periods in the city to 50 years. In addition, participatory workshops were held to identify, based on the experience of citizens, the most vulnerable areas of the city. Through this diagnosis, the two main causes of flooding in the historic center were identified: deficiencies in the drainage system and the absence of infrastructure and green infrastructure measures to cover the Surinam River flood.

2 A multisectoral approach on sustainable infrastructure

Proposals for adapting to climate change in cities should be conceptualized in a multisectoral way in the design of sustainable infrastructure.

In the case of Paramaribo, for example, the proposals for adaptation are not isolated; they are strategically linked and are complementary to the measures being taken to revitalize the historic center. By reducing the likelihood and intensity of flooding, not only is it directly benefiting the vulnerable communities in the area, but also the open space along the river bank.

3 Sources of funding One of the main challenges for small and medium-sized cities in LAC includes access to financing for climate change. Cities can invest their own resources (eg taxes, capital gains, etc.), use intergovernmental transfers, and in some cases access resources from multilateral agencies. In the case of Paramaribo, given the context of vulnerability and the characteristics of the investments, the Government of Suriname decided to request an investment loan from the IDB to revitalize the historic center; but the Bank is also exploring how to mobilize additional resources through the Adaptation Fund (AF). Specifically, a preliminary proposal was prepared that was presented to the AF to implement measures of infrastructure and knowledge on adaptation to climate change in the historic center of the city. In summary, moving towards an urban adaptation agenda involves developing good diagnoses that opens a dialogue between citizens and government authorities on an action plan. Proposals should have broad, multisectoral approaches that integrate urban infrastructure designs. Finally, different sources of financing, including international mechanisms, should be evaluated in order to launch the execution of the works.

Paramaribo’s Plan 1916-1917. Source: División de Vivienda y Desarrollo Urbano

The Spanish version of this blog post can be found here:

Luis Schloeter joined IDB’s Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative in September 2015. Previously, he served as Regional Director of Ashoka Venezuela and Research Associate at MIT’s Poverty Action Lab. Luis specializes in fiscal decentralization, urban infrastructure finance and urban economic development. Luis has a MSc. of Urban Economic Development from University College London (UCL) and a Master of Urban Planning with a specialization in International Development from New York University (NYU).

Translation by IDB.

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  • haytiinthenews
    May 11, 2017 Reply

    […] IDB: Building Sustainable Cities in the Caribbean: 3 lessons from Paramaribo […]

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