After quake, Quito says it will serve as model of urban resilience at Habitat III

Officials say disaster will have no impact on preparations for October’s urbanization conference.

Portoviejo, Ecuador, showing the aftereffects of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, 18 April 2016. The capital, Quito, was relatively unaffected. (Fotos593/Shutterstock)

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck just offshore of Ecuador on 16 April caused extensive damage to the country’s coastline, but the capital Quito was largely unaffected.

Consequently, the country’s ministry of housing and urban development has said that the natural disaster will not affect plans to host the U. N. Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in October.

“There is no impact on Habitat III,” ministry spokesperson Jonathan Viera told Citiscope two days after the earthquake struck, leaving at least 700 dead. It was the deadliest quake to strike South America since 1999, when over 1,000 perished in Colombia.

[See: How is Quito preparing for Habitat III?]

While government officials say the quake will not have a long-term impact on Habitat III, the country’s minister of housing and urban development, María Duarte, was unable to attend last week’s Habitat III Regional Meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean in Toluca, Mexico, as a result of responsibilities related to housing reconstruction. She also is not in New York this week for the beginning of the Habitat III political process.

However, her spokesperson did say that she will be in New York next week in her capacity as Habitat III Bureau co-chair in order to assist with the drafting of the New Urban Agenda, the 20-year urbanization strategy expected to result from Habitat III. The first of the agenda is widely expected to be made public around 6 May.

[See: The drafters: Meet the two women leading the Habitat III Bureau]

“The Habitat III Secretariat expressed its condolences to the Government of Ecuador, President Correa and Minister Duarte,” said a spokesperson for the Habitat III Secretariat. “We continue working with the host country team towards a successful conference.”

Joan Clos, Habitat III secretary-general, told a U. N. consultation on Habitat III on Monday, “The president of Ecuador maintains its commitments for the celebration of Habitat III. It’s going to be an additional responsibility, as we feel a duty to contribute to the efforts of Ecuador to overcome this natural disaster.”

In Quito, six homes were damaged by the earthquake and three of them collapsed, according to government figures. One woman was killed when struck by a stone dislodged from above by the quake.

The city government, meanwhile, has taken a proactive role in assisting coastal cities and towns with reconstruction. “Mayor Mauricio Rodas started one of the largest assistance and cooperation campaigns in the country to benefit those affected on the Ecuadorian coast,” said Cristian Espinosa, international relations coordinator for the city of Quito. The city reportedly sent 120 firefighters to help with rescue operations.

Earthquakes are not the only natural disaster risk in Ecuador, which is home to 16 major volcanoes. Cotopaxi, which can be seen from parts of Quito, awoke from over a century of dormancy last year, causing widespread concern and a two-month national state of emergency.

[See: As Cotopaxi awakens, Quito and its suburbs get ready for a volcanic eruption]

As a result of both Cotopaxi and the recent earthquake, issues of resilience could take on an increased urgency at the Habitat III negotiations.

“We note in this long and difficult process that urban planning and sustainable and inclusive community development of affected communities is an important factor,” Espinosa said. “[The process] must look at important references for discussion on the international agenda in the areas of natural disasters, risk management and especially the preparatory framework of the Habitat III conference.”

[See: Habitat III process paying ‘insufficient’ attention to resilience and urban crises]

In light of the disasters on the Ecuadorian coast, city officials believe that the Habitat III host city can serve as a model on these topics. “Consequently, it’s been precisely Mayor Rodas who has signaled that Quito will continue to serve as a modern example of development and urban revitalization, and will lead Ecuador’s preparation to host the international community at the next U. N. Habitat III conference,” Espinosa said.

Conference preparations are proceeding accordingly in collaboration with the U. N. and national government, Espinosa said. “The renovation of public spaces that will be used for the conference, as well as the public works in the city neighborhoods that will be most on display during Habitat III, are on time with the schedule we have set out.”

[See: For Habitat III, Quito will be a living laboratory for urban innovations]

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