Lessons Learned

by David Smith, Gonzalo Lizarralde, Lisa Bornstein, Benjamin Herazo, Trent Bonsall, and Steffen Lajoie*

The neighborhood of Panorama in Yumbo, Colombia
1. Adapting to global warming is not enough: Comprehensive disaster risk reduction, based on recognition of social and environmental injustices, is required in informal settings in the region.
2. Trust between stakeholders is often the basis for positive change. However, trust between governments and people living in informal settings is often elusive and fragile. Facilitative, structured dialogue, among other participatory approaches, takes time but can help break implementation barriers and establish common ground.
3. Understanding people’s emotions in response to long-term risk, daily struggles, socio-economic concerns, disaster experiences, and climate change is key to recognizing behaviors and social injustices, engaging in dialogue, mobilizing resources, and driving change.
4. Supporting and building on existing practices and activities, including those seemingly not linked to climate action per se, increases effectiveness and innovation in disaster risk reduction.
5. Women typically lead change in informal settings, notably by creating the social fabric that allows disaster risk reduction initiatives to emerge. Yet women in the region also face violence, unwelcoming governance mechanisms, and patriarchal structures that are hard to eliminate. Supporting women in leadership roles is key to reducing social tensions and facilitating implementation.
6. Academic and policy jargon—often articulated around sustainability, resilience, adaptation, and other abstract notions—rarely resonates with the needs and desires of people living in informal settings. Narratives grounded in local knowledge, ideas, and practices do.
7. Let emotions speak, drive, and maintain climate action momentum. Informal settings are particularly unstable grounds for climate change action. Red tape, contradictions in policy, and deficiencies in infrastructure render implementation difficult—even when there is well-written policy in place.
8. Government investment and support are often fragile in informal settings. Universities and non-governmental organizations can play a crucial role in climate action as intermediaries between authorities and citizens.
9. Limited means of communication and lack of information are major barriers to producing change in informal settings, particularly during crises. Mobile technology allows local leaders and residents to connect, share knowledge, and promote risk awareness.
10. A clear ethical framework that considers issues of legitimacy, appropriate governance, trust, and transparency is required for scaling impact. Bottom-up initiatives are difficult to replicate because they respond to local specificities. They require attention to detail and careful and sustained efforts over long periods of time.

*Cite as: Smith, David et al., (2021). Lessons learned. In Artefacts of Disaster Risk Reduction: Community-based responses to climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean. Smith, David; Herazo, Benjamin; Lizarralde, Gonzalo (editors). Montreal: Université de Montréal. Accessible here: https://artefacts.umontreal.ca/