Habitat for Humanity Argentina has been working in the neighbourhood of Los Ceibos, González Catán, La Matanza district, since 2012. There, it facilitates the construction and improvement of houses for neighbouring families within the framework of the Neighbourhood Development Project, which seeks to empower and overcome situations of vulnerability through adequate housing.
In 2014, and due to heavy rains, the neighbourhood suffered several floods in the areas closest to the Morales stream, an arm of the Matanza Riachuelo watershed, which highlighted the risks associated with the infrastructure conditions of the place. On several occasions, HPHA intervened by cleaning houses when the floodwaters receded and residents were able to return home, with the accompaniment and delivery of cleaning and disinfection kits. This increased awareness of the HPHA project in the area, and gave rise increaed mutual knowledge and links with the neighbours that allowed for the generation of the conditions required to carry out new specific actions.
This opportunity came in 2017 with the possibility of carrying out work financed by the insurance company Chubb Seguros, which sought to support the strengthening of community management of neighbours against disasters and the reduction of risks against floods in their homes. The intervention was necessary because this is the most vulnerable part of the neighbourhood: there is no garbage collection, no ambulances or police, and when it rains the street becomes impassable and the children cannot go to school. There is no option to sign a deed for the land in the short term and the electrical service in the homes is mostly informal. New families continue to arrive in the neighbourhood, which is tending to consolidate itself despite the physical conditions and the risk of flooding.
Initial Stage: Disaster Risk Reduction and Response Assessment
During the first two months of the financing, a double assessment process was undertaken, which sought to contemplate the socio-community reality in relation to the physical-environmental factors of the neighbourhood Los Ceibos, in the town of González Catán, district of La Matanza. In order to understand this process, two types of information were considered during the assessment stage, which were gathered by means of a community-type assessment and a technical assessment. The results of the assessment stage, which focused on risks of flooding and severe storms, justified the implementation of the risk management project in this area and are summarised below.
Type of Housing and Community Improvement for Disaster Risk Reduction
Community Improvement for Disaster Risk Reduction: We built 422 metres of a route that allows communication between the streets flooded by rain and heavy storms and the paved streets, connecting the neighbours with schools, services, transport and shops through a safe route. The final part of the project included the installation of signs that identify areas of risk, asphalt paint on the pavement to facilitate the transit of neighbours with reduced mobility, and tree planting along the pavement. The work was a process of self-construction undertaken by the residents of the floodable area of the neighbourhood, volunteers and staff of HPHA, and it took place during days of massive participation.
Housing Improvement for Disaster Risk Reduction. Topical Improvements: According to the community, one of the most worrying problems was the state of the electrical installation in the houses and those of low voltage. As a result, we decided to install certified light pillars for house consumption. These pillars were built by the neighbours themselves together with technical volunteers, volunteer’s brigades from Chubb and HPHA staff, thus reaching up to 15 families of the neighbourhood with this type of improvement.
Basic Training for Identified Families: More than 66 people who were at risk of flooding throughout the area of Los Ceibos were trained on how to apply for loans for housing improvement. This way, the aim was to strengthen capacities for progressive improvements for healthy housing, strengthening of the family economy and self-construction skills.
Community Leaders and Flood Risk Awareness Training: Different awareness-raising meetings have been held. Based on the assessment carried out, the workshops were adapted to understand the different perceptions of flood risk. Training on electrical risk management was carried out, which served as a training tool for builders and neighbours who hold credit to improve the HPHA pillars. Different meetings were held with the neighbours on the community plan for the evacuation route and the organisation of working days for this community improvement. A total of 63 people (neighbours, builders and community leaders) were trained.
Disaster Risk Management Training for Builders: From the work undertaken by a team of four technical volunteers, led by the Architect Juan Pablo Tufaro (member of the HPHA team), a training for builders was developed on electrical risk management and accident prevention, on the building site and at home. This meeting, which involved builders who participated in the topical improvements, was also attended by families who applied for credit for the construction of the electrical pillars. While the content included specific technical issues aimed at building staff – how to build the pillars according to certified plans – it also included general content on accident prevention and risk management. It was attended by 6 builders and 13 neighbours who were beneficiaries of the soft loans for topical improvements.
As a result of precarious electrical installations and the low height at which the light meters are located (which are covered by water when the neighbourhood is flooded), which is unsafe and inadequate, several fatal accidents have occurred. As a result, both the neighbours and technical volunteers suggested that the houses could be improved by building pillars to place the electricity meters from the electricity company, with the aim of reducing or mitigating the risk of electrocution.
So it was decided to grant subsidised loans to 16 families for the purchase of materials and labour, with which they would be able to build electricity meters at the statutory height of 1.20 / 1.50, fitted on concrete pillars. In evaluating the families for approval of the improvements, economic and social factors were taken into account: some families, due to health or family problems, would repay the loan over more years, with lower instalments and higher subsidies, while the others would adjust the instalment to their income. The criterion was to cover all the families with the highest risk and to generate a revolving fund that could be returned to achieve further improvements.
Currently, the distance of the evacuation route is 440 metres, with consideration to extend it to 550 metres as the result of a proposal of the neighbours, for which new resources will be required to buy more materials. The route would include signage, painting and tree planting throughout the entire route, to serve as a rapid evacuation route during flood early warnings.