Strengthening Disaster Resilience in the Mountain Region of Rio de Janeiro State


Petrópolis is a municipality located in the Mountain Region of the State of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, with population of approximately 300 thousand inhabitants, and occupies an area of ​​a little more than 795 square meters. Founded in 1843, it is also known as the “Imperial City” for having emerged during the period of the Brazilian Empire, preserving relevant historical value. In addition to being the largest and most populous city in the region, it also holds the largest Gross Domestic Product – GDP and Human Development Index (HDI).

Petrópolis is located  in a geographic position dominated by tropical climate, with high altitudes, mountainous relief and rugged topography, conditions that facilitate the occurrence of abundant and concentrated rainfall, mainly in the summer. The high declivity slopes, with disordered anthropic occupation, and the characteristics of the soil, which cause more instability to the slopes, usually result in frequent flooding and landslides. The city has historically been the scene of several socio-environmental disasters, with loss of human and material resources over time, especially in 2011, when there was a major landslide disaster in Brazil. Thus, it is evident that there is a need to strengthen their resilience and broaden their preparedness and prevention capacity with a view to reducing the risk of disasters.

The project “Strengthening Resilience” stimulates the formation of CBDRM through capacity-building and closer cooperation between municipal schools and communities in 10 territories of the municipality of Petrópolis. The activities were based in capacitating Safety School Committees and Community Agents to disaster reduction following the actions below:

  • Applying MEAL baseline and starting monitoring
  • Designing Schools and Communities Risk Maps
  • Building Up DRR plans
  • Developing micro-projects among schools and communities
  • ToT for ESDEC and public agents
  • Training & practice of schools drills
  • Public DRR events
  • Applying final line
  • Regional seminar and launching the project´s handbook

The project was funded by the C&A Foundation and implemented by Save the Children in partnership with Instituto Fonte (in Brazil). Over the course of 15 months, the project involved school principals, teachers, students, school staff, community agents, local government agents, state government agents in disaster reduction, local entrepreneurs and two public universities.

The project end in December of 2017 with evident results of strengthening CBDRM.


In the ten territories embraced by the project, we collected several evidences that the CBDRM interventions were owned by communities. In one of the communities, for example, the members of the school committee and members of the local NUDEC (Civil Defence Community Corps) have carried out cleaning and awareness campaigns about the correct disposal of garbage. This group got the public power to integrate the selective collection program in the community. In six months they have been able to clean up their community and make people aware that garbage in that region is a threat to community health. Another clear example that CBDRM interventions have changed the perception of risk in the community was at a school in the Morin neighbourhood, which took advantage of an abandoned community area to build a small Agroforestry Centre. In many cases, the project took advantage of community skills and knowledge to enhance their actions. One example was a micro-project created by a community in the Gentio neighbourhood that inserted, along the river, pipe rules to measure it´s growth in rainy days. It served to create a community early warning every time the river rises beyond limits of the pipe rule. The local government, represented by local Civil Defence and the Secretary of Education, participated in the CBRDM interventions in all communities involved by the project. It brought communities confidence that the actions would be support by the government. The CBDRM activities were coordinated by a specialist field team coordinated by Save the Children which helped communities and schools to accomplish their goals. As part of the project, the field team had weekly meetings in all communities and schools participating in the project. The coordination of CBDRM activities in schools were made in weekly meetings integrating students, teachers, the principal and other school staff. Each school formed School Safety Committees divided in five brigades (preparation, prevention, response, first aid help and psychosocial support). In the communities represented by the NUDECs the activities were schedule monthly, integrating many community members.
The majority of participants of the project were women and youth. In the communities, the women were responsible for gathering and organising other people for the activities. In schools, we have many examples of girls exercising leadership by managing school activities. In many cases, the youth leadership was support by the community as well. In the NUDECs, the participation of community elderly and persons with disabilities shows that the project integrated these marginalised groups in the activities. The women meetings in the communities held by the project increased their perception about the threats and capacities. To gather these groups of women together, the project accommodated their schedules and created an informal space of recreation and support for their children, so that the mothers could participate in the meetings.
The activities of the project were adjusted to accommodate community and school priorities. In the schools, the project´s field team, along with the school principals, created a calendar for the activities for the year. It was very helpful to build the activities, because in the days of projects meetings, everything was prepared and the students were ready to accomplish the activities. In the communities, the meetings were held always in the evening as it was the best time for community gather. In some communities, the school committees went to participate and give their opinions about the community activities for the year. The involvement and role of the health agent in understanding and directing priorities in the territory was fundamental. These health agents have great capillarity in the communities because people rely on them. The project also counted with a monitoring field team that accompanied the activities across the year. The field team and the monitoring team had a schedule of monthly meetings to collect data, discuss activity learning and to propose changes to the project. The monitoring field interviewed the participants and designed a baseline in the beginning and a final line that could measure the knowledge gathered by the participants. The final line showed that the CBDRM knowledge increased 75% by the end of the activities.


The Project ended in December of 2017. Many School Safety Committees are returning to the school year in February 2018. All the school principals show their support for the continuity beyond the end of the programme. The 10 school participants of the project will continue the activities of revising the risk maps and action plans and will do trainings for mock drills. Many schools also will continue their micro projects. In the communities, the Civil Defence Community Corps are continuing the activities learned in the project. In their meetings they are inviting the local civil defence and municipal and state prosecutors to show their planning of activities for the year of 2018. The local and state civil defence showed total support for the continuity of the activities in communities offering local resources such as rescue equipment, first aid cases, and early warning equipment, among other resources to empower the Civil Defence Community Corps and Safety School Committees. The Civil Defence Secretary and the Education Secretary signed a Cooperation Term to continue giving support and resources to have CBDRM practices continued in the municipality. Since the project ended in December, all communities continues to meet weekly planning the next steps they should accomplish to go on along the year.
Over the last year, people's lives have been changed in terms of resilience and prevention. In most communities, people are supporting the Civil Defence Communities Corps and Safety School Committees, participating in actions to reduce and prevent risks. In some communities, the increasing capacities help people to better analyse the local vulnerabilities and take actions to mitigate or to reduce the associated risks. In schools, the School Safety Committees were able to identify the vulnerabilities and organise their capacities. All the steps of the Committees actions were presented to students, teachers and other school staff, increasing the number of people understanding the importance of CBDRM to reduce and prevent risks. In general, the increase in risk perception was higher than the indicators suggested and the actions took by the School Committees and Community NUDECs showed how well prepared and organised they were. The youth members got confidence in their capacities to mobilise the school community. The women, represent by teachers, health agents, NUDEC agents and school principals and youth, were those who made a difference in terms of CBDRM. In their meetings, the women showed that they were aware of the communities' vulnerabilities and identified many actions to reduce this vulnerabilities. The elderly and disabled members of the NUDECs felt great that they could help community also.


This case study has brought many learnings and we would like to highlight some. The importance of the School Committees being plural, involving students, employees and family members of different genres and tracks in addition to diversity in its composition, to increase the power of influence and articulation in schools. A confirmed point, throughout the work, was that young people learn more when they practice and when they observe what they practice. And in this practice is the opportunity to develop conditions for the cooperation and protagonism that will certainly result in safer schools. By giving young people the opportunity to have an voice, to build decision-making processes and to provide them with responsibilities, they are empowered to learn. In order to build safe schools, it is also important to create the awareness of risk through the perception of local scenarios which may threaten the school, in addition to enabling a group to diagnose vulnerabilities, organise capabilities and act. And it was so. From this experience, the field team was able to note that the positive results of the project are directly related to the connection with the will of the school's management to create internal proposals to the school routine, in spite of the challenge that this suitability can bring. The vulnerabilities of the city of Petrópolis should not be as a fatality in itself, as they normally are. The important learning of this project, which has shown us that these vulnerabilities can be transformed by communities to be aware of and prepare for disaster. However, for that results over time, this issue should be of interest of public policies. In this context, the experience of the project to the importance and necessity of a closer approximation between civil defence and CBDRM, since a strong and empowered Nudec is really a support for civil defence which, in turn, can offer more training activities, recognition and approval, legitimising the process of this group in the territory. In conclusion, The "Strengthening of Resilience" experience built the capacity of the new partners in building alliances and cooperative networks, which gave a special tone in some communities and, certainly, will contribute to the unfolding of actions. After all, there is still much that be done to reduce disaster risk in our municipality.
At the federal level, the National Policy on Protection and Civil Defence - PNPDEC, instituted by Law No. 12,608 of April 10, 2012, has among its principles: to sow the culture of prevention and preparedness among communities, with the purpose of ensuring appropriate social, economic and environmental conditions to deal with disasters. At the state level, the project has the partnership of the State School of Civil Defence ESDEC, which supports several municipalities in Rio de Janeiro, through training of professionals who work in civil defence. At the local level, the municipality, following the national policy and inspired by the project, decreed by law number 622 that CBDRM activities must be held in all schools of the municipality.
The local civil defence is responsible for coordinating CBDRM actions at the local level. However, there is not enough provisions (technical and financial) for capacity-building of CBDRM actors.
The project influenced local practices in CBDRM. The general recognition of the benefits of CBDRM by the community members is shown in the increasing of their capacities to recognise the vulnerabilities and take action to prevent and reduce risks. For the local government, the project influenced their polices related to CBDRM. The insertion of CBDRM in the school curriculum is a reality. For the state level government, the recognition brought the project to a level of scalability for at least 17 municipalities in the state and by March of 2018 the State School of Civil Defence will stipulate that their members could possibly develop CBDRM practices in others municipalities.