San Pedro Sula is a city in Northern Honduras. The area has always been prone to tropical storms and flooding; however in recent years the effects of climate change, land use change and deforestation have led to worsening problems. A growing population and increased intensity of storms have added further strain on the existing drainage systems and the city has suffered increasingly from floods.
“Climate change has significantly increased the risk of catastrophic floods,” explained Mayor Armando Calidonio. “These floods have grown in intensity and turned into much stronger events that reach neighborhoods and areas that weren’t exposed before. We’re seeing the concentration of rainfall into more aggressive storms that in general, even in the most developed areas, are causing the rainwater drainage systems to collapse.”
Currently a storm season can bring any number of hurricanes and other tropical storms to the area, each one with the potential to endanger lives and destroy housing and infrastructure. This is why flood risk is an important part of the “Master Plan for Municipal Development”, which the municipality developed to address the challenge of climate change.
In the past year and a half, UNU-EHS ECA Studies project was able to further support the municipality in taking concrete steps towards reducing the risk of flooding and improving adaptation and preparedness. In close cooperation with the local government, the team implemented the Economics of Climate Adaptation (ECA) framework in San Pedro Sula to identify the most cost-efficient measures to address the risks and negative impacts of floods and improve overall resilience.
The team compiled and validated data with key stakeholders, which, through the modeling platform CLIMADA, it turned into concrete adaptation recommendations for the community, taking into account the key assets, hazards and vulnerabilities of the city. The goal of the ECA methodology is to not only identify effective solutions but to also assess their economic benefit and feasibility.
A total of 14 flood adaptation measures were identified and validated by the municipality to be run in CLIMADA, including: technological and engineering solutions, ecosystem-based (nature-based) approaches, maintenance/operational measures, instruments and tools that improve baseline hydro-meteorological data, and risk transfer/insurance solutions.
In the end, the following measures were particularly recommended: improvements to the drainage system and its maintenance, reforestation along riverbeds, and the construction of vegetated swales on the most flood-prone areas of the city. Additionally, the study concluded that the municipality would benefit from further investments into climate risk related data, improving the weather monitoring network and early warning systems.
“Regarding our expectations for the ECA study, the municipality is very pleased with the results and the recommendations of both infrastructure and non-infrastructure measures to address the risks of natural disasters in San Pedro Sula,” said Jose Diaz, Director Competitivity Office of San Pedro Sula on the occasion of the recent closing workshop of the project. “We are very committed to the implementation of these results, and our administration will prioritize the required efforts to guarantee the sustainability and resilience of the inhabitants and assets of San Pedro Sula.”
The ECA Studies have provided the community not only with concrete recommendations, but have also initiated a first analysis of their economic feasibility, which can serve to development banks as an initial assessment of their worthiness of investment. Development banks such as the German KfW, which funded this study, are interested in helping governments access financing for climate adaptation measures. As Katrin Enting-Pauw, Senior Portfolio Manager Urban Development Latin America at KfW, pointed out, the comprehensive analysis is making San Pedro Sula uniquely prepared for such funding: “Based on the results of this excellent study, with its scientific bases and pre-feasibility analysis, as well as the backing of UNU, I am very confident and looking forward to further discussions with the municipality on the next steps of the program.”
Aside from Honduras, UNU-EHS is currently conducting ECA Studies in Ethiopia and Vietnam, all in close collaboration with ETH Zürich. The project is funded by the InsuResilience Solutions Fund (ISF) on behalf of the German Development Bank (KfW) and the German Ministry for Development Cooperation (BMZ).
Find out more about the ECA methodology and the open-source modeling tool CLIMADA here.