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Urban Risk and Climate Change Adaptation in the Reconquista River Basin of Argentina

Flavio Janches, Hayley Henderson, and Leslie MacColman

December 2014, English

This working paper explores climate change adaptation as it is occurring in the Reconquista River Basin (RRB) in Argentina. The authors examine urban risk and the extent to which adaptation is occurring, considering key adaptive capacities and challenges throughout the RRB. The analysis is based on previous studies complemented by key informant interviews and an online survey developed by the authors and administered to municipal government representatives of the RRB. Findings show that climate hazards are increasing and that vulnerabilities are compounded by urban growth in the region, including throughout nearly 300 informal settlements. Investment in vulnerability reduction programs and environmental clean-up strategies has been exponential over the past decade, leading to widespread improvement in key areas of infrastructure provision. Climate change adaptation discourse is gradually emerging and the overall trend is for risk reduction to be subsumed and aligned with vulnerability reduction.

Despite important advances, the complex, multi-level governance structure—involving national, provincial, regional, municipal, and community-level stakeholders—combined with a history of unplanned urban expansion—presents challenges for coordinated adaptation planning, including in relation to information management and comprehensive risk assessment. At the community level, various types of spontaneous adaptation were observed, particularly in informal settlements and mostly in response to flooding, through both individual and collective strategies. These initiatives show that informal settlements appear to display a level of dynamism and a flexible adaptive capacity which is sometimes lacking in the ‘formal’ city.

Considering future possibilities, the authors developed scenarios aimed at stimulating debate around possible change for adaptation planning. These are based on scenarios of: incremental change through a business-as-usual approach, incremental change through climate mainstreaming, abrupt change post climate-related catastrophe, and transformative change through integrated adaptation planning. Of these, transformative change offers the best possible scenario for adaptation planning and its implementation would require enhanced coordination of planning efforts as well as deeper engagement of civil society.

Keywords: Climate change adaptation; Reconquista River Basin in Argentina; challenges facing climate change adaptation; planning scenarios for climate change adaptation; vulnerability of informal settlement to climate change hazards.