Lima: Climate Risk and Response

Source: Google Earth

Lima is located on the southwestern coast of Peru.  A city of 7,538,000 people, Lima is characterized by rise from sea level to 1,548 m.  The city, including business and historical centers, is located in a river valley between the coast and the foothills of the mountains.  Lima is served by several different modes of public transportation, including bus rapid transport, microbuses, and subways.  Lacking in this arrangement is an efficient connection between the hillside slum settlements, known as barriadas, to the rest of the city.  A climate risk assessment (Mehrotra et al., 2009) for Lima is summarized below, followed by recommendations to address the risks.

Lima faces climate hazards in the form of increasing temperatures and precipitation, as well as in the form of rising sea level affecting coastal areas of the city. Beyond this, Lima faces the risks of increasing climate variability due in part to climate change affecting El Niño/La Niña cycles and, more generally, flooding due to changing intensity of rainfall events. The variation in city elevation means residents face different climate hazards just miles apart, with coastal zones dealing with sea level rise and storm surge, and hillsides dealing with extreme rainfall events and mudslides.

The variation in elevation of Lima along with high poverty levels creates vulnerabilities on the hillside settlements, where people are concentrated in areas prone to mudslides. Settlement of hillsides maintains a dangerous situation in the area, and prevents government from undertaking efforts to secure hillside in order to prevent land shifting during heavy rainfall. The fragile foundation underneath and elevation prevents mass transit connections between the slums and the city proper, further isolating at-risk individuals and increasing vulnerability by hindering evacuation plans or access by rescue workers during natural disasters.

Lima has the capability in terms of institutional arrangements and fiscal allocations to develop transit that is inclusive to at-risk population. To ensure that the environmentally fragile hillsides stay intact and to integrate the poor into the major areas of the city, the first recommendation is to change land use regulations to allow for resettlement from the slums.  This would remedy sprawl in the city and increase the efficiency of the bus rapid transit system. It would help eliminate the climate risk facing hillside slums and areas at the foot of hillsides by addressing the growing problem of landslides. Additionally, this policy measure would reap mitigation co-benefits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating microbuses serving hillsides.

The second policy measure creates an evacuation plan that provides emergency transportation for residents in the vulnerable areas of the city in the event of extreme weather. This measure demands flexibility in order to address the spatial differentiation of risk between coastal and hillside areas. For the at-risk populations on hillsides, this will require developing transit connections between the city proper and the slums. This response includes a vehicle evacuation plan that moves buses to hangers, where they will be protected from damage caused by high intensity storms.

In order to initiate these changes, it is recommended that an interagency taskforce inclusive of community organizations and advocates for the at-risk population be formed to examine the issue further and to create site-specific recommendations.  Additionally, the taskforce will help initiate zoning changes that will allow for densification of the city and create affordable housing.  A government subcommittee will meet quarterly to evaluate the plans and progress; they will also evaluate the risk of an extreme event based on climate data and projections.  These responses de-marginalize the at-risk population while encouraging densification and smart growth in the city, the preservation of fragile environmental areas, and lessening greenhouse gas emissions.


This article is a product of Professor Shagun Mehrotra’s Climate Change and Cities class. Views expressed are entirely those of the authors.



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