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Published: 2012

Linkages between population dynamics, urbanization processes and disaster risks: a regional vision of Latin America

Analysis on the linkages between population dynamics, urban development and disaster risk reduction in Latin America
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With both urban population and the frequency of disasters increasing in Latin America, it is necessary to adequately plan for sustainable growth that takes these changing dynamics into account. With this in mind, multiple agencies within the United Nations came together in consultation with regional experts to analyse linkages between population dynamics, urban development and disaster risk reduction in the region. This resulting paper begins by providing context on the linkages and their current methodological treatment. Links can be direct (land use, population density etc) or indirect (climate change), and must be considered in terms of both short- and long-term scenarios.

The paper describes the characteristics and consequences of the situation in Latin America, covering: population projections and scenario building for planning; population growth, urbanisation and their drivers; and public policy, population dynamics and risk reduction. Key findings include the following.
  • Urbanisation will continue, more through organic growth than migration, requiring diversification efforts.
  • The poor will represent the largest proportion of urban growth and the growth of slums will amplify risk, making disaster risks ever more urban-centric.
  • Local losses are largely associated with flood impacts and hydro-meteorological hazards.
  • Weak governance structures contribute to disaster risk through an absence of planning and growth management, leading to informal settlements, substandard housing, lack of services and poverty.
Based on these findings, the paper concludes by outlining the challenges to and opportunities for urban intervention, including the following.
  • Demographic analysis is not well integrated into urban planning or disaster risk reduction; careful study of demographic trends and the creation of scenarios should form secure foundations of prospective plans.
  • Urban growth should be directed to the identification and development of areas with basic facilities, in the context of disaster risk reduction.
  • Small- and medium-sized urban centres provide the greatest opportunities in planning for growth; it is necessary to invest in the technical capacity of such centres, since they often have fewer resources than those in larger urban areas.
  • Social housing policy offers significant opportunities that can increase the resilience of vulnerable groups.
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