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The city of Paraty is located along the coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Paraty was declared a national cultural heritage site in 1966 , due to its long history. Paraty was built in the seventeenth century, by Portuguese military engineers, explaining its Portuguese architectural style. The location of the city was key in its development, as it was built near an ancient indigenous road that cut through the dense Atlantic forest to the state of Minas Gerais. This was an ideal location for a port city, with access to Minas Gerais during the gold rush in the late 1600s.
Paraty is a part of the Perequê-Acu and Mateus Nunes river basins and surrounded by Atlantic forest, much of which is considered environmental protection area. Out of the municipal area, 83% of it is environmentally protected Atlantic forest. These natural protected areas, along with the cultural city, are threatened by repeated flood events, which are a result of uncontrolled urban expansion around the city and waterways. One key factor leading to this uncontrolled urban expansion is the trend in increasing urban population in Brazil, which is a common trend across South America. In Brazil, the urban population has climbed from 45.08% in 1960 to 84.4% in 2010. Paraty as well has experienced a large increase in urban population, reaching 37,533 inhabitants in 2010, along with an estimated population of 42,630 inhabitants in 2018. McGranahand and Haughton (2006) define an “Urban environment transition” as where “expansion is too fast for proper natural resource management”, which is quite applicable to Paraty.
This case study of Paraty will explore the different factors going into the increase of flood events threatening this cultural heritage center, along with damages to protected Atlantic forests. These issues are quite complex, involving many stakeholders, complicated relationships between government organizations, and low-income residents who are unaware of their impacts on the environment and the city itself.
Brazil is a country rich in natural resources, biodiversity, and a few of the most diverse and important biomes in the world. Brazil is home to two biodiversity hotspots, the Cerrado and Atlantic forest biomes. The world’s largest wetland, the Pantanal, is also located in Brazil along with the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest. The forest around Paraty is classified as Atlantic forest, and according to Myers, 2000, “Due to its high species richness, large number of endemic species and current stage of degradation, it is a biodiversity hotspot.”. The Atlantic forest is threatened primarily due to land use change for agriculture, along with pressures from industrialization and real estate speculation. Deforestation rates in Atlantic forests have decreased, however, this is mostly because of how little is left. “Only 8.5% of the biome has well-preserved remnants of more than 1km²”. Due to its high levels of biodiversity, along with its increasing rarity, preservation of the Atlantic forests should be a high priority for the Brazilian government and any other stakeholders interested in the preservation of biodiversity.
As mentioned before, much of the nature area around Paraty is considered environmentally protected forest. What forces the continued development into these protected areas is the interest in short term economic goals. The parties most commonly interested in short term economic goals consist of construction companies, generally for the purpose of tourism and recreation. As land ownership allocation is decided by the municipal council, often times political pressure for rural land allocation is applied. This is often "in exchange for previously attained political agreements." This cycle repeats itself, where elected officials please groups with economic interests, in return they are rewarded with "a variety of private interests" . The result of this cycle is the continuation of allocation of rural lands up the two rivers, disregarding the influence on Atlantic forests, along with the resulting increase in flooding events.
Unlike many cases where forested areas are either big economic assets, or have ties to indigenous peoples, the Atlantic forest around Paraty is primarily left as preserved forest, and there are no major groups or organizations claiming the land as their own. The forest is not a big economic factor in the area because of the several other existing industries in Paraty, such as tourism and fishing. Indigenous ties to the land undoubtedly existed in the past, but are no longer present. These two factors differentiate the challenges in Paraty from traditional issues faced in forest management.
Affected stakeholders are groups of people who's livelihoods and wellbeing directly depend on what goes on in the given area. In the case of Paraty, the people who work in the tourism industry are affected stakeholders, seeing as they rely on the preservation of the historical town center as a tourist attraction. The other group of affected stakeholders are the people living in the rapid, unplanned development area, in the upper areas of the Perequê-Acu and Mateus Nunes rivers. These people are either looking to start businesses, or are low-income workers, both of whom are often unaware of the impacts that their development has downstream. These two groups of stakeholders are considered affected stakeholders because their livelihoods are directly affected by the flooding events, and by the regulations set and enforced by the local government.
Several government organizations present in Paraty are directly involved in management of environmentally protected areas, along with the management of the cultural heritage areas in the town center. The State Institute of the Environment (INEA) is the most influential of the organizations, consisting of three environmental administrations. The three administrations are the State Foundation of Environmental Engineering (FEEMA), the State Superintendence of Rivers and Lagoons (SERLA), and the Forest State Institute (IEF). Government organizations in Brazil have a history of poor communication and collaboration, so these three organizations were combined into the State Institute of the Environment to attempt to solve this issue. Government organizations such as the INEA are considered interested stakeholders because it is their job to regulate and enforce environmental legislation. This may make them seem like affected stakeholders, however, government employees will most likely still be paid, and will still continue as employees regardless of if their level of success in executing their respective jobs.
Two other government organizations that should be involved in Paraty are the National institute for the Artistic and Historic Heritage (IPHAN), and the Environmental and Natural Resources Agency (IBAMA). Both organizations should be involved in the reduction of flooding events, but statements taken from representatives from both parties stated that "flood prevention is not within our mandated responsibilities".
A study conducted in Paraty in 2013 by Barbedo, J., M. Marins, M. Miguez, and M. Sousa used MODCEL, a mathematical hydraulic model that simulates flooding events. The model was used to test the potential outcomes of continued expansion around both the Perequê-Acu and Mateus Nunes rivers, along with the outcomes of restricted urban expansion. The results of the simulations clearly showed an increase in flooding in vulnerable areas after continued urban expansion. As expected, the outcome of the restricted urban expansion was a decrease in flooding in vulnerable areas. These simulation results can be explained through the sufficient amount of scientific evidence on how forests, floodplains, and preserved natural riparian areas decrease the amount of surface flow/floods in comparison to man-made environments. "There is strong evidence that wetlands evaporate more water than other land types, such as forests, savannah grassland or arable land. Two-thirds of studies (48 of 74) conclude that wetlands increase average annual evaporation or reduce average annual river flow(pg. 367)" . Uncontrolled expansion upstream both the Perequê-Acu and Mateus Nunes rivers has been taking the place of natural wetlands, explaining the increase in peak flows resulting in flooding events. Furthermore, “Wetlands reduce floods, recharge groundwater and increase dry season flows, wetland hydrology is working in sympathy with water resources managers and flood defense engineers (pg. 367)". The preservation of wetlands and riparian areas will clearly decrease the amount of flooding, however, the current strategies in place to combat the flooding take a different approach. Current strategies take the approach of making use of hard engineering solutions to attempt to solve problems as they arise. These hard engineering solutions are only started after the issue is made apparent, unlike conventional city planning models that would consider the measures needed to be taken before development. This trend has been called the "anthropization of hydrologic systems", implying the positive feedback loop of facing man-made environmental issues through the use of technology, usually leading to another issue, and another, and so on. A law is in place with the intentions of addressing this issue, which is the municipal law 609 of 1981. Law 609 states that "land subdivision in flooded areas or areas subject to flooding are not allowed before action has been taken place to assure the drainage of water". While the law intends to regulate development on flood vulnerable areas (which are often critical wetlands), it fails to specify on what qualifies an area as a "flooded area", or which areas qualify as areas "subject to flooding".
The main challenges faced by Paraty to reduce the amount of flooding events can be organized into three main categories:
The lack of responsibility and collaboration between stakeholders could be addressed in several different ways. One of the first possible solutions has already been done by the Brazilian government, which was to combine FEEMA, SERLA, and IEF into one joint organization, the State Institute of the Environment. This step was helpful, and encouraged the subdivisions to see each other as partners instead of adversaries. What needs to be improved between stakeholders, primarily government organizations, are the management strategies. One example of a management strategy that could be useful across all the government organizations in play in Paraty is adaptive management. Adaptive management "puts particular emphasis on integrating various kinds of knowledge—scientific and professional as well as alternative forms of local and indigenous knowledge about social-ecological system behavior as well as management practices—to come up with a more comprehensive picture of the problems at hand". Current collaborations between government organizations and other stakeholders are almost non-existent in Paraty, which could be changed through adaptive management. For example, the State Institute of the Environment could collaborate with low income residents in the upper reaches of the Perequê-Acu and Mateus Nunes rivers to gather local knowledge to identify any potential sustainable forest practices that could generate economic profits. A specific example could be the production of non-timber forest products such as Açaí. Any of these potential practices would have to be sustainable, along with minimal impacts on natural Atlantic forest, as to preserve wetlands to avoid increase in flooding. These practices would be an alternative to further development, offering residents an economic option other than construction that could generate income, and preserve natural landscapes. A complex suggestion such as this one could easily have downsides and unintended negative consequences, which would be essential to take into account in the adaptive management process. Adaptive management is considered "an ongoing experiment for developing steering activities in which the policy maker becomes a “nimble experimenter, with the patience to consider long-term consequences”.
While adaptive management could be a useful strategy, it is useless without a political body that would continue to support the management style even after several elections. This leads to the second category of issues faced by Paraty when it comes to decreasing flooding events. The municipal council in Paraty responsible for land allocation in development poises a threat to any progressive form of management strategies. This is where public opinion, along with media could have an influence on political opinions, and therefore elections. Events such as FLIP, the "county fair" of Paraty could influence public opinion in the area. FLIP is a yearly cultural fair that celebrates culture in the form of literature, plays, music, and food. Large tents are set up near the waterfront, attracting thousands. Design of the fair is intended to reflect the connection between the city and its culture to the natural landscapes surrounding the city, such as the Atlantic forest, the waterways, and the ocean. FLIP provides Paraty with an opportunity to influence the expectation of tourists and residents, by showcasing the connections between culture and surrounding nature, which has the potential to influence future expectations for the management of environmental reserves, along with the allocation of land available for development.
The last suggestion regards the reliance on hard engineering solutions to flooding events. Ideally, further development up the banks of the rivers will decrease, or even stop, but realistically some development will take place regardless. Development strategies already exist that minimize the impact on hydrological cycles, that would be very beneficial to the city of Paraty. One of these strategies is Low Impact Development (LDI). LDI attempts to mimic natural hydrological processes in order to minimize the impact of development on the hydrological cycle. LDI would "minimize runoff, acting on impervious rates reduction and maintaining green areas; preserve concentration times of pre-development, by increasing flow paths and surface roughness; use of retention reservoir for peak discharge control and improve water quality". Having said this, ideally the city of Paraty will increase the collaboration between stakeholders in order to use several of the suggested improvements. Collaboration of government organizations, along with the incorporation of residents and management strategies could decrease development in natural/wetland areas, leading to a decrease in flooding events, preserving biodiversity rich Atlantic forest, and the culturally valuable town center.
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