Back to Opinion_ARQ_11_01_2021_Preventing_Natural_Catastrophes_Landscape
Diario de Navarra
Professor at department of Theory, Projects and Urban Planning. School of Architecture of the University of Navarra.
It is no use taking refuge in those voices that say that nature is "taking revenge" on us; nature does not take revenge on anyone.
The floods of the last few days in Navarre, La Rioja and Aragon once again bring us dramatically closer to a reality that we only seem to remember when we are immersed in the catastrophe. The newspaper headlines could be the same as in 2013, or in 2019, and in them we read once again that the floods, once again "historic", are dwarfing the previous ones. And once again there is talk of great material losses and great environmental damage. And, sadly, also of human losses. Perhaps, in view of the desolate images of this new edition, the time has come to seriously question whether the measures used to deal with this phenomenon are adequate or, at least, whether alternative, more effective solutions could not be sought.
Climate change is a reality. It is no use taking refuge in those voices that say that nature is taking "revenge" on us. Nature does not take revenge on anyone. It has always had its rhythms. But it is clear that the sum of our actions is accelerating them at an alarming rate and that these altered conditions are having serious consequences: high temperatures, extreme droughts, unpredictable storms, major floods, unusual snowfalls. Moreover, for almost a century, the Western mentality has been determined to prove that it is stronger than nature. And so it squeezes rivers between concrete walls and holds back the tides with barriers so that it can build on the seashore, and constructs dams that allow it to build in the crevices of ravines and to occupy riverbeds and flood plains with buildings. But the acceleration of change and the impossibility of predicting its extent is proving that these measures are not infallible.
This issue was already addressed in 2015 at the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR), held in Sendai, which considered the need to prevent new disasters and reduce existing ones "by implementing integrated and inclusive economic, structural, legal, social, health, cultural, educational, environmental, technological, political and institutional measures that prevent and reduce lecture hazards and vulnerability to disasters, increase preparedness for response and reduce vulnerability to disasters, increase preparedness for response and reduce vulnerability to disasters, structural, legal, social, health, cultural, educational, environmental, technological, political and institutional measures that prevent and reduce the Degree of exhibition to hazards and vulnerability to disasters, increase preparedness for response and recovery, and thereby strengthen resilience". final is about understanding risk, strengthening governance to manage risk, investing in risk reduction and, finally, increasing disaster preparedness for effective response. And all of this is framed in terms of resilience, an old word that in this context, however, reaches its full meaning plenary session of the Executive Council , which is none other than the capacity to adapt to adverse conditions and the capacity to return to the initial state once these adverse conditions have ceased.
This implies a change of mentality in which we overcome the vision of protection in merely static, engineering terms, to start working with the natural dynamics themselves, relying on what nature teaches us and offers us. The idea is not new. It is the basis underlying Ian McHarg's book Designing with Nature, a 1966 text that today more than ever we need to re-read. Designing with nature means intervening in the environment so that natural and cultural systems coexist in balance. Projects must start from an exhaustive analysis of the functioning of the environment in order to act in balance with natural processes, and give space to these processes instead of restricting them between barriers. Design with and not against nature. It is no longer possible to impose our anthropocentric, static and deterministic vision on nature. Nature has its rules and we must learn to listen to them.
There are countries that have begun to protect themselves according to these landscape-based dynamics, with projects that are adaptable to the circumstances, be they drought situations, flooding of urban centres, or even avalanches. These projects are based on the study of the behaviour of nature, but without losing sight of the complexity implicit in the urban condition. Thus, as opposed to the mere construction of engineering infrastructures, public spaces are designed with multiple functions, but in such a way that they can be transformed and changed if necessary, while still offering citizens attractive and functional spaces in any of the scenarios. The initial investment for this subject project may be high, but if we add up the damage of recent years, and the further damage that will occur, perhaps it is time to seriously consider whether it would not be worthwhile to go for a radical change.