In this episode of Helvetas’ podcast, Discussions for a Better World, we spoke to urban and spatial planning specialist Beatriz Lizarazu and Martin Del Castillo, Helvetas’ deputy coordinator for Latin American and Caribbean countries. Both are from La Paz, Bolivia, and are experts in the urbanisation phenomenon.
Like most other developing countries, Bolivia is coping with the challenges that accompany increased urbanisation. Bolivians move from surrounding towns for better services such as education, health, water supply, sanitation, and job opportunities. “Forty years ago, only 43% of Bolivians lived in cities,” said Martin. “Now 70% live in urban areas. The cities are growing too fast, and we don’t yet have the capacity to meet the needs of the population.”
Martin explained that Helvetas approaches urban resilience by focusing on a few primary sectors, and that the organization’s role in Bolivia is as a facilitator that provides technical assistance. Urban services such as water, sanitation and solid waste management is one sector. Food security is another. The third is urban resilience, including environmental climate change. All sector work takes into account the cross-cutting elements of economic development – with a focus on better opportunities for immigrants and youth – and improved governance.
In the municipalities, the administration of solid waste management is poor. The system of collecting, segregating and disposing of the waste is not uniform nor is it efficient. Sometimes municipalities don’t have a consistent employed waste collector. They also lack landfills or other safe disposal methods or recycle the waste. “There are 30 landfills in the entire country,” said Martin. “Less than 10% of the country's municipalities have a landfill.”
Waste management is vital for risk management in the mountainous terrain of Bolivia. The soil gets contaminated by dumping waste, leaving the ground infertile and creating a source of risk for urban disasters such as landslides and flooding. Helvetas helps local governments strengthen and close the solid waste management chain and improve its efficiency with better equipment and technical capacity building.
Another key component is improving the capacity of users. This begins with educating the consumer about the waste they are responsible for disposing. Toxic wastes, plastics and wet waste should be segregated for there to be smooth differentiation of the materials.
“Cities have a cyclical relationship with climate change,” says Beatriz. “They are the first to be responsible for it but also the first to adapt.” Projects are planned to reduce the carbon emission in cities. Encouraging people to use alternatives to vehicles such as cycling or walking goes a long way toward reducing the amount of fuel consumption and carbon emissions. These types of solutions might seem small and straightforward, but individual action is necessary to ensure that new and better practices are embraced by urban dwellers.
Cities and their rural surroundings have a highly interdependent relationship. The production of food is concentrated in the rural areas. But the market for food, essential services such as health facilities, and quality education is found in urban centers. More than 650,000 people travel to La Paz per week to work, increasing the city’s population during the day. Given this influx, it is essential to improve the transportation between cities and neighboring towns.
To truly increase quality of life, change must go beyond altering rules and laws; people must embrace small behavior changes, too. For example, with a charge on plastic bags in stores or mandatory use of paper or cloth bags, people will slowly choose to bring their own bags to the store. Such a small change involves changes in governance, the consumer experience and the provision of good alternatives. As we look to the future, Helvetas continues its work supporting young entrepreneurs in identifying solutions to these problems and encouraging youth to enter the markets.
Listen to the full podcast to learn more about how Helvetas is helping build urban resilience in Bolivia.
About the author: Kruthikaa Lakshman lives in Bangalore, India, and is a freelance writer and journalist.