Reducing Social Vulnerability to Environmental Change: Building Trust through Social Collaboration on Environmental Monitoring

Paola A. Arias Grupo de Ingeniería y Gestión Ambiental, Escuela Ambiental, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia

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Juan Camilo Villegas Grupo de Ingeniería y Gestión Ambiental, Escuela Ambiental, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia

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Jenny Machado Grupo de Ingeniería y Gestión Ambiental, Escuela Ambiental, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia

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Angélica M. Serna Grupo de Ingeniería y Gestión Ambiental, Escuela Ambiental, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia

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Lina M. Vidal Grupo de Ingeniería y Gestión Ambiental, Escuela Ambiental, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia

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Catherine Vieira Grupo de Ingeniería y Gestión Ambiental, Escuela Ambiental, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia

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Carlos A. Cadavid Grupo de Ingeniería y Gestión Ambiental, Escuela Ambiental, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia

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Sara C. Vieira Grupo de Ingeniería y Gestión Ambiental, Escuela Ambiental, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia

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Jorge E. Ángel Corporación Autónoma Regional del Centro de Antioquia (CORANTIOQUIA), Medellín, Colombia

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Óscar A. Mejía Corporación Autónoma Regional del Centro de Antioquia (CORANTIOQUIA), Medellín, Colombia

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Abstract

The occurrence of natural and socially driven catastrophic events has increased in the last few decades in response to global environmental changes. One of the most societally relevant challenges in managing the effects of these events is the establishment of risk management strategies that focus on managing vulnerability, particularly in disfavored countries, and communities among them. Most cases of enhanced vulnerability occur in, but are not limited to, developing countries, where the combination of social inequity, inappropriate use of natural resources, population displacement, and institutional mistrust, among other factors, make risk management particularly challenging. This paper presents a vulnerability-centered risk management framework based on social cohesion and integration principles that, combined with scientific, technical, and popular knowledge, lead to the development of social networks of risk reduction. This framework is intended as a strategy to strengthen early warning systems (EWS), where the human-related factor is among their most challenging components. Using water-related hazards as a case study, this paper describes the experience of the conformation of a social network for environmental monitoring using this model example on vulnerability reduction in the rural areas of the central Andes in Colombia. This experience allowed the effective conformation of a social network for environmental monitoring in 80 municipalities of Colombia, where communities developed a sense of ownership with the instrumentation and the network, strengthening links with local authorities and contributing to more efficient EWS. More generally, the authors highlight the need to develop vulnerability-centered risk management via community-building strategies, particularly for areas where little can be done to decrease the occurrence of catastrophic events.

Corresponding author address: Paola A. Arias, Universidad de Antioquia, Facultad de Ingeniería, Calle 67 #53-108, Bloque 20, Oficina 441, A. A. 1226, Medellín, Colombia. E-mail: paola.arias@udea.edu.co

Abstract

The occurrence of natural and socially driven catastrophic events has increased in the last few decades in response to global environmental changes. One of the most societally relevant challenges in managing the effects of these events is the establishment of risk management strategies that focus on managing vulnerability, particularly in disfavored countries, and communities among them. Most cases of enhanced vulnerability occur in, but are not limited to, developing countries, where the combination of social inequity, inappropriate use of natural resources, population displacement, and institutional mistrust, among other factors, make risk management particularly challenging. This paper presents a vulnerability-centered risk management framework based on social cohesion and integration principles that, combined with scientific, technical, and popular knowledge, lead to the development of social networks of risk reduction. This framework is intended as a strategy to strengthen early warning systems (EWS), where the human-related factor is among their most challenging components. Using water-related hazards as a case study, this paper describes the experience of the conformation of a social network for environmental monitoring using this model example on vulnerability reduction in the rural areas of the central Andes in Colombia. This experience allowed the effective conformation of a social network for environmental monitoring in 80 municipalities of Colombia, where communities developed a sense of ownership with the instrumentation and the network, strengthening links with local authorities and contributing to more efficient EWS. More generally, the authors highlight the need to develop vulnerability-centered risk management via community-building strategies, particularly for areas where little can be done to decrease the occurrence of catastrophic events.

Corresponding author address: Paola A. Arias, Universidad de Antioquia, Facultad de Ingeniería, Calle 67 #53-108, Bloque 20, Oficina 441, A. A. 1226, Medellín, Colombia. E-mail: paola.arias@udea.edu.co
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