CARACAS, Saturday November 03, 2012 | Update

The most peremptory prevention steps in Caracas

Less city vulnerability -A more and more urgent matter

The basin of Guaire River should be widened up (Photo: Venancio Alcázares)
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Saturday November 03, 2012  12:00 AM
Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, flooding or landslides, have always played a key role in Caracas.

Notwithstanding, neither local nor central governments have ever paid attention to prevention and have ignored the simple equation where risk is equal to threat out of vulnerability.

Caracas is a city at permanent risk. It is geographically located on the limit of the tectonic plates of South America and the Caribbean; this explains its background of earthquakes. Both sides of Ávila hill are the target of landslides every 25 years, due to 300 millimeters or more of rainfall in 72-hour term. Grossly, it is like a big tray with one exit only: the basin of Guaire River. The risk in Caracas is mainly because city authorities had barely taken action to diminish it.

Carlos Gómez Llarena, the ex coordinator of a multi-disciplinary report on Caracas, prepared by three faculties of Columbia University at New York 10 years ago, has made an inventory of the most urgent steps that should be taken. "Ensure ready access in low-income barrios in the event of an earthquake. There, the largest constructions are on the periphery and were made without any structural calculation. This, in the event of an earthquake, could be an insurmountable obstacle against any kind of aid. Low-income barrios should have clear spots where a helicopter can land on, for instance. Also, the basin of Guaire River should be expanded and those giant columns at the freeway should be protected against earthquakes."

As for the risk of landslides, Gómez Llarena recommends gabions.

For his part, Ángel Rangel, who worked for 28 years with the fire brigade and led the Civil Protection agency at the time of the tragedy in Vargas state in 1999, deems it urgent a new city layout and planning taking into account the risk factor.

Fewer political conflicts are another key issue for him. "In Vargas, we had 15,000 volunteers and the aid of the private enterprise was fundamental. Today, I'm not sure that this boost could be replicated. How can the city prepare to face a contingency if some mayors do not speak with some others, for instance?"

Rodolfo Briceño, ex commander general of the former Metropolitan Fire Brigade, thinks that there is also the need to improve first aid services and have contingency plans. "Every one should know the role to be played in case of emergency. In countries such as Japan or Chile, children are taught to act in the event of an earthquake. We, who live in a city of earthquakes, have never acted accordingly."

Translated by Conchita Delgado
The end of a cycle

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fotter Estampas
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