Ecosystems in favor of people

By João Gonçalves and ProAdapta team

Ilustração: Carmen San Thiago

Only those who have closely experienced the consequences of extreme weather events know the impacts they can cause and the importance of actions that minimize damage. This is the case for the residents of Monte Serrat, in the city of Santos, in Brazil, an irregularly occupied hillside area that historically suffers from landslides.

The community leader and resident of Monte Serrat, Arquimedes de Souza, tells that the landslides of 2020 were frightening and, nowadays, every thunder and rain makes him scared and worried. He experienced the problems of the landslides, actively helping those affected, including his sister and aunt, remembering similar passages from his childhood when his family and the whole community helped each other as best as they could.

The storms of 2020, still fresh in Arquimedes’ memory, besides being the most intense of the last 80 years in Santos, were the ones that caused the greatest damage to the community. The impact of these events is due to the occurrence of increasingly intense rains in a terrain debilitated by the replacement of native vegetation by irregular occupations.

In realities like the Monte Serrat hill, the implementation of climate change adaptation measures plays a key role in reducing damages and dealing with the new climate reality. Interventions to increase the stability of slopes by restoring vegetation cover are adaptation options that are called Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA). EbA uses the capacity of ecosystems themselves to provide what are called ecosystem services or “green infrastructure” to reduce vulnerabilities and can be complementary to “grey” measures or conventional infrastructure. 

In collaboration with the Santos City Hall, the ProAdapta Project worked together with residents of Monte Serrat to implement EbA actions. Through workshops and other activities, people were made more aware of the theme and proposed, actively and collectively, effective measures such as the planting of native and fruitful species of medium size and deep roots in the most exposed areas. Besides retaining the slopes, the action provides several co-benefits such as the improvement of thermal comfort through shading and potential income generation for the community through fruit production, while beautifying the landscape and being a source of leisure for the population. More than just new trees, the action has awakened a sense of collective belonging, culminating in the creation by the population of the campaign “Let’s take care of our hill”.

“What keeps me excited about staying in Monte Serrat is reforesting the hillsides to keep them healthy and taking care of the large trees that are near the houses. We can take advantage of the land we have here, with a community garden and small fruit trees. Because we are afraid that we have too many jackfruit or avocado trees…. It’s good to eat jackfruit, but to live under a jackfruit tree… I’ve lived there. It’s scary!” said Archimedes.

The actions promoted in Monte Serrat were also concerned with empowering the local community and promoting gender equality, as well as the equal participation of women in the workshops. The cooker Cícera Juca de Oliveira Silva, for example, was responsible for providing the food for the workshop participants. A thirty-year resident of one of Monte Serrat’s communities, Cícera used to come down the hill daily to sell her snacks and sweets in downtown Santos. With the Covid-19 pandemic, she had to reinvent herself and the work in the streets of more than 15 years became a work for orders. The request for ProAdapta was the first event request attended by the cook. “It was an opportunity for the people who live here in the community. There are many people here who make very good things, but people look outside because they think it’s better. I wish people would value us more, because it is very good here,” says Cícera, who herself lives in a hillside area and has already had a sister affected by landslides. “In 2019, it was very hard for my sister. She lost her house and all her belongings. We feel insecure, even though my house is very safe, because my husband built it and he did it really well. It takes a lot of rain to bring the house down!” Is it?

The Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) approach in Monte Serrat will provide the return of fauna, the protection of steep slopes and community safety. And what flourishes, multiplies: with the support of GIZ Brazil, the measures will be replicated in other communities and neighborhoods with similar problems in the Metropolitan Region of Santos, called Baixada Santista.

Project: ProAdapta – Support for Adaptation to Climate Change
Partner: Ministry of Environment (MMA, in portuguese) and Santos City Hall
Funder: Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV, in German)

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