UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction


The IRDR in Bolivia

19 July 2010

Bolivia Blog

Steve Edwards (IRDR Deputy Director) recently spent three weeks in Bolivia working with CAFOD (the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development) and its partners CIPCA and CENDA as part of the ongoing collaboration between UCL and CAFOD on risk reduction and climate change adaptation. The aim of the trip was to take the first step in designing a collaborative research project on risk analysis and reduction based around development models and the impacts of mega-projects. An overview was gained through a transect that extended from Riberalta in the Amazon Basin in north-eastern Bolivia, through the Central Highlands around Cochabamba, to the Altiplano in and around La Paz. In the Amazon key issues investigated were flood, drought, wildfire, water and food security, health, and land- and water-use changes. In the Highlands and the Altiplano interest focused on drought, water and food security, health, water management, and mining. Water was identified as the key theme, as all development models must be underpinned by responsible assessment and exploitation of water resources.

Landlocked Bolivia is bordered by Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile, and crosses the divide between the high Andes in the west to the flat-lying Amazon Basin in the east. Owing to its diversity in geology, relief, climate, environments, ecosystems, resources and history, the human cultures and traditions in Bolivia are highly varied and have evolved over at least 2000 years. The population stands at an estimated 10 million, with over 60% living below the poverty line. Perhaps such poverty is surprising in a country containing a vast wealth of natural resources, such as minerals, natural gas, water and biodiversity, to name but a few. However, the exploitation of these resources to underpin development presents a great risk to the environment and the traditions and cultures of many Bolivians, and these issues are always at or near the top of the political agenda.

In Bolivia many people view development not through the accumulation of wealth and growth in gross domestic product, but through water and food security, solidarity, living in harmony with nature, reciprocity, and health and wellbeing. Such development is practiced through social organisation, collective natural resource management and productive systems, all of which have been developed over at least 2000 years. Consequently, many Bolivians have utilised traditional knowledge and practices to ensure they do not over-exploit and permanently damage their environment and its natural resources, and they have done this through understanding hazards and managing vulnerability to reduce risk.

To find out more about the Bolivia project please contact: 

- Dr Stephen Edwards +44 (0)20 3108 6002 (internal x56002)