The Hillside Partnership Program seeks to prevent landslide risks on inhabited hills. It encourages creative solutions that integrate government departments while engaging community participation. By introducing a Committee of community members to oversee implementation of municipal policy, the Hillside Partnership Program’s innovators have introduced transparency and citizen oversight into the process of environmental reform.
In the city of Recife, the hillside areas have been on the public agenda since 1980. As recurring landslides during the rainy season caused deaths among residents, the government took action and created the Hillside Partnership Program in 1994, which is managed by the Recife Urbanization Company. The Program, working with risk areas on private land, has as its focus providing alternative forms of hillside containment with the participation of the city’s citizens in planning and execution. By encouraging residents to contract with the city to build the agreed-upon hillside reinforcements, innovators have been able to direct municipal resources to poverty alleviation in the most marginal neighborhoods of Recife while simultaneously preventing environmental disaster.
Reformers began the initiative by introducing an intervention and management model and establishing the Integrated Committee of Environmental Control. The Committee includes community representatives, chosen by direct vote. Once the municipality had elected its Committee members, the Committee began using a set of specific environmental criteria to designate particularly vulnerable hillsides for priority treatment. To train members of the Committee in environmental protection protocols, municipal innovators contracted with a consultant company, Colméia; this company is also responsible for conducting technical studies to determine resources and time required for proposed construction projects identified by the Committee.
Once the Committee had identified the areas most in need of intervention, reformers set a timetable for each project. All final decisions on project organization and timing must be approved by the Committee, which also offers contracts to designated community partner groups within the target areas to carry out the initiative. Building materials are supplied by the Municipal Government and delivered according to the established timetable. Weekly evaluations are carried out by Committee members and Program staff.
Since 2001, the Program has established projects in 110 occupied hillside areas out of a total of 199 within the municipality. This equals an area of 3,300 hectares, half of the municipal territory, housing an estimated 400,000 inhabitants, a third of the city’s population. Over 5,000 families have benefited from the Program’s initiatives, and identified risk areas have been reduced by 42% percent.
By working with the civil defense to develop preventive actions, municipal reformers and community members have been able to work as partners to respond to emergencies and to improve hillside safety in Recife. Other highlights include decentralized units of community emergency response professionals at the Hillside Stations, which have given the territories at risk of landslide a sense of responsibility for the upkeep of their own public works projects and environmental protection initiatives. At the Hillside Stations, contracted regional teams of neighborhood residents share space with federal civil defense teams, allowing faster emergency action as well as making it easier for the local community to contact the Program team.
Another important aspect of the Program is the use of non-traditional technical solutions, which are low cost and easy to use in terms of building and maintenance. This not only lowers the Program budget. but also allows community members to be trained in building a variety of containment projects. By outsourcing Program initiatives to the beneficiaries of these projects, the community develops a vested interest in the success of these fortifications, reducing vandalism and lowering maintenance costs. Use of simplified construction techniques also frees the city hall to concentrate on other and more complex interventions.
Since 2001, only four deaths in landslides have been registered in Recife, none of which occurred in areas that have received Program intervention. Considering that in previous years there were often dozens of landslide deaths during the rainy season, the Program has managed to prevent the worst consequence of landslides on inhabited hillside areas: the loss of human lives.
- Focus on preventive rather than emergency action in order to reduce landslide risk during the rainy season.
- By using simple technical solutions to hillside instability, the municipality has been able to contract with community residents for building projects, thus lowering implementation costs and allowing government urban development teams to devote their resources and expertise to more complex engineering projects.
- The integrated solutions and innovative actions used are essentially very simple, which allows for replication in other Brazilian cities.