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Adapting to urban challenges in the Amazon: flood risk and infrastructure deficiencies in Belém, Brazil

Mansur, AndressaVianna, Brondizio, EduardoSonnewend, Roy, Samapriya, de Miranda Araújo Soares, PedroPaulo, Newton, Alice
Regional environmental change 2018 v.18 no.5 pp. 1411-1426
cities, climate change, collective action, drainage, floods, focus groups, households, infrastructure, interviews, politics, risk, risk reduction, sanitation, sewage treatment, storms, violence, water supply, Amazonia, Brazil
Sustainable urban infrastructure transition is perhaps the biggest challenge confronting cities in the global south in a time of climate change. Fast-growing cities are increasingly faced with deficiencies in the provisioning of public infrastructures, such as delivering water and sewage treatment and mitigating the risk of flooding to large segments of the population. Problems such as flooding encapsulate both structural and individual dimensions of adaptation. In this paper, we present a conceptual framework to analyze urban adaptation to increasing flood risk in the capital city of Belem in the Brazilian Amazon. Our analysis focuses on two domains of adaptive capacity to floods: generic capacity (provisioning of basic infrastructure and services) and specific capacity (effective flooding response, proactive strategies for risk reduction). We combined data from census sector and household semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, observational and archival data, and photo documentation to analyze both capacities in the city of Belém. Our findings indicated deficiency and intra-urban variability of both generic (water supply, sanitation, waste management, and adequate storm drainage) and specific capacities (specific individual and community and political actions for flood mitigation). However, significant inequalities exist across sectors of the population. Poorest urban sectors present higher deficits of generic adaptive capacity related to infrastructure. The expansion of vast areas of informal settlements, lack of basic infrastructure, and failed projects to reduce flood risk also challenge the specific adaptive capacity of households. A perception of corruption associated with public projects and high levels of violence also prevent cooperation and collective action among residents affected by flooding.