Territorial and Risk Management… an approach

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Jorge Miguel Marques de Brito, PhD student, Master in Territory Arrangement, University of Coimbra, Portugal

For the first time in its history, the human being has the ability to manipulate the environment on a global scale. These global changes pose tremendous challenges for the integration of science and scientists in decision-making. When dealing with uncertainty and high risks, such as natural disasters, such integration is particularly difficult, but necessary.

Consequence, or not, of these changes, climate change aggravates the scenario, in itself difficult, of risk management through the addition of a set of parallel processes that have an increasing influence on our daily lives. Within these processes we have yet to add the growth of urban areas, sometimes riotous and wild, which was felt in the last decades and from which only now are we feeling the repercussions.

In Portugal and according to the 2002 “National Urban System – Additional Network“, the resident population in the continental territory increased from 7.8 million to 9.8 million between 1950 and 2001. In those years the population residing in urban areas rose from 58% to 75%, according to data from the same source. Consequences of this we have situations such as illustrated in figure 1 where classified historical buildings are affected by floods.

Figure 1: The Mondengo River, Coimbra has flooded regularly since the 14th century; the University of Coimbra was established in the 12th century.

Figure 1: The Mondengo River, Coimbra has flooded regularly since the 14th century; the University of Coimbra was established in the 12th century.

Given the verification of this growing population, urban development requires an environmental planning and management system based on a territorial and constitutional basis of land use, urban planning and environment. The creation, in parallel, of effective policies of risk management and monitoring of vulnerabilities will be the support of these new societies.

The act of planning is, by itself, a differentiator for different uses and constraints assigned to the territory and for years the establishment of these same uses and constraints led to the allocation of inappropriate uses of these same territories, thereby increasing the vulnerability and strengthening the risk (Brito, 2007)1. The localization options are, therefore, essential to planning and territorial management, which resumed a central role with direct implications on the environment, quality of life and reduction of risk for the people.

This (dis)order that the planet endured for years, collaborated strongly for the scenario of climate change that we have today, which in turn contributed to the increase of natural hazards, forming an unmanageable cycle for modern societies. The impact and damage caused by this cycle are sometimes incalculable and of difficult recovery.

Consequently, the set of legal instruments whose main objective is to create rules for territorial management in order to minimize the impacts of natural hazards on society and the environment are increasing in number. However, it appears that many natural events have become more and more recurrent and their impacts are increasing (Anderson 2002)2. Since floods and flooding, whose term of recurrence is becoming smaller, passing through forest fires with increasingly devastating consequences to mass movements that in seconds leave the property of people reduced to zero the manifestation of these processes has an increasing impact on society in general and western nations that are believed somehow immune to these processes. Consider the “Katrina Case” in 2005 in the USA (figure 2).

Figure 2: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA post- Hurricane Katrina (2005), the worst hurricane in U.S. history

Figure 2: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA post- Hurricane Katrina (2005), the worst hurricane in U.S. history

Brito (2007)1 said that “the land use planning systems should be developed based on a primary logic of security; because only this way can we enhance the development and adaptation to an environment where systems are integrated.” We should abandon the logic, so far available, of a number of constraints indifferent to relations between society and territory and the processes that occur in them.

We live in the so-called “society of risk”. It is therefore essential to develop a conscience that it’s impossible to live in an environment completely free of risks (Smith, K. 2002)3 and that the term risk involves, not only the idea of danger and destruction, but also the ideas of choice, prudence and responsibility, so it is important to consider the social context in which a particular risk is obvious, because not all societies share the same perceptions on the various processes. The various forms of territorial occupation, the momentum, the degree of technical development / science and application of tools for planning and security criteria, determine the admissibility of the environmental, social and economic development of the different populations.

1Brito, J. (2007). Aplica̤̣o de mecanismo perequativos a ÌÁreas de susceptibilidade natural, Coimbra, p. 182.

2Anderson, K. (2002). A model to predict lighting-caused fire occurrences. International Journal of Wildland Fire 11, pp.163-172.

3Smith, K. (2002). Environmental Hazards: Assessing Risk and Reducing Disaster; Routledge, p. 274.