Last week, I returned to chilly “mud season” in Vermont from sunny Santo Domingo where ISC executed one of our signature Climate Leadership Academies (CLAs) in partnership with ICF International and Engility Corporation. The CLA brought together eight teams representing coastal and low-lying cities in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The teams were comprised of senior-level staff from municipal governments and other sectors responsible for designing and implementing resilient city infrastructure initiatives and programs. The workshop was offered through the Climate Resilient Infrastructure Services (CRIS) program, under USAID’s Climate Change Resilient Development (CCRD) project.
The attending cities (Piura, Peru; Trujillo, Peru; Santo Domingo’s National District, Dominican Republic; Verón-Bávaro, Dominican Republic; Buenaventura, Colombia; Riohacha, Colombia; Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico; and Campeche, Mexico) face a set of common climate stressors such as sea level rise and erratic weather patterns (severe rain events, drought, and changes in average temperatures and precipitation levels) – as well as non-climate stressors such as the increased prevalence of informal settlements and rapid urbanization – that strain existing infrastructure services and impact economic, social, and environmental systems. The attending city teams are each in different stages of addressing these challenges and brought different approaches and solutions to the table. The workshop was designed to foster peer learning and networking among participating teams, Resource Team members (practitioners and experts in fields related to sustainable development and resilient infrastructure), CRIS program staff, and other notable guests.
It was wonderful to witness the energy and enthusiasm in the room during this three-day CLA. Some teams had already worked together in the past through USAID-sponsored events – representatives from Verón-Bávaro and Buenaventura greeted each other warmly and began catching up immediately upon reconnecting. Others grew close over the course of the workshop, and readily engaged in deep discussion and brainstorm sessions. Team members opened up and candidly discussed their challenges, successes and visions for their cities; the zeal and passion in the room was palpable.
I was especially excited to hear senior level city officials delve into topics of social equity and make links between the technical and environmental challenges facing their cities. As they acknowledged, these challenges are closely tied to civic sector inclusion and societal wellbeing. City representatives demonstrated that they understand challenges facing communities and genuinely value citizen engagement in order to achieve sustainable and equitable solutions to difficult problems such as ensuring means of livelihood for relocated populations, addressing the needs of citizens living in vulnerable areas, and stemming root causes behind the sprawl of informal settlements. For example, the municipality of Santo Domingo has engaged teams of community advocates in a neighborhood called La Zurza that are responsible for, among other things, educating community members so they do not dump their trash in the river, training local women to make handcrafts using recycled materials, and engaging the community to prevent dengue outbreaks.
Challenges and vulnerabilities confronting cities in the LAC region run deep and long-term approaches are needed that focus on the social and political barriers to sustainable solutions. These solutions require cross-sector collaboration, political will, engaged local champions, innovative approaches and smart use of limited resources.
This CLA embodied the CityLinks mission of connecting peers to foster shared learning. It was invaluable to participate in a peer-learning process that enabled individuals to share experiences, brainstorm ideas, and collaborate to address global challenges.
CityLinks is funded by USAID to support efficient service delivery, economic growth, sound management of resources, and political stability among local governments.