Habitat International Coalition
Global network for the right to habitat and social justice
Urban Rehabilitation in Viacha
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Author: Gómez, Alejandro; Red Hábitat

1.- History, background and context

In January 2001, Bolivia suffered significant damages in several regions of the country due to excessive rains, which left low-income residents in particular in grave living circumstances. Bolivia at the time was also going through one of its most critical crises, making it very difficult to implement immediate actions to address the emergencies.
The city of Viacha (Department of La Paz) was one of the regions affected by floods when the Pallina River overflowed, fortunately leaving only material losses.

The human settlements on the outskirts of the city of Viacha had formed without prior urban planning. Urbanization plans were regularized after the people had settled and built their homes. The neighborhoods had no type of technical oversight, but the Mayor nevertheless installed basic service connections. The majority of homes located in city outskirts did not have duly approved construction plans, and in many cases tenure had not been regularized.

The most recent previous floods had occurred in 1995 and 1985. According to neighborhood leaders, those floods had not been as severe, but even the moderate overflow of the river had affected homes due to the underground water flow in some areas. In addition, the excess water had caused the draining systems to back up and return sewer waters to the homes. Constant complaints to the Mayors office had produced no positive effects. The last time the Pallina River had overflowed was due to the torrential rains that fell between January and March 2001, exacerbated by the lack of maintenance of the riverbed and the fact that it had become a garbage dump for the entire city.

In response to the situation, flood victims decided to organize to demand solution to their urgent needs. Each area affected (13 flooded neighborhoods) named two representatives, and from this number seven leaders were elected for different roles, thereby conforming the Viacha Flood Victims Association, Asociacin de Damnificados de Viacha-ADV.
This organizations mission was to coordinate actions with local authorities to channel resources and control the distribution of contributions which arrived as donations. These objectives were entirely fulfilled. The most difficult task was coordinating activities with the Neighborhood Boards from each area, given the indifferent attitudes adopted by some neighborhood presidents.

In an institutional effort, Red Habitat opted to expand its field of action and address the issue of Risk Management and Natural Disaster Prevention. The incorporation of this new area of work is not entirely new for the institution, given its institutional work in the theme of housing and environment.

2.- Objectives, strategies and scope

Contribute to strengthen the neighborhood organizations through research, training, advisory, and communication actions, so they may generate development proposals in the local and national dynamic and achieve broad participation in public policy construction spaces.

Strategic lines:

  • Strengthening citizen participation through the ADV and establishment of an Inter-Institutional Committee constituted by Viacha social organizations.
  • Technical assistance to the social organizations for elaboration of a Rehabilitation Plan in the flooded areas.
  • Promotion and Political Pressure placed on the authorities responsible to address natural disaster problems, to obtain financial resources for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of affected homes, through the generation of public opinion.

Size of the participating and beneficiary population:
517 families from 13 areas, with a total of 2,018 inhabitants affected.

Territorial scope:
13 neighborhoods affected in the city of Viacha.

Innovative aspects:
Socio organizational: The ADV was reinforced to help it exercise its rights to citizenship and full participation. We assisted in the formation of the Inter-Institutional Committee, whose leadership is in the hands of the Church and the flood victims as direct negotiators for the rehabilitation policies in Viacha. Organizations such as the Federation of Neighborhood Boards, the Surveillance Committee, the under-prefecture, and the municipal government are integrants of this Committee.

3.- Actors involved and their roles

  • Beneficiary population: Represented by the ADV, coordinates, oversees and negotiates the rehabilitation policies.
  • Social organizations: Including the Federation of Neighborhood Boards and the Surveillance Committee, they collaborate in the supervision and elaboration of bureaucratic procedures.
  • Inter-Institutional Committee: Represented by the Church, the ADV, base organizations, and public institutions (FEJUVE, the Surveillance Committee, the under-prefecture, and the municipal government), they coordinate actions to implement the Viacha Rehabilitation Plan.
  • The Ministry of Housing and Basic Services: Allocates the resources for new housing construction and housing repair materials.
  • Viacha Municipal Government: Emits property title deeds, assigns technical support, and confers necessary documents for the rehabilitation in Viacha. Also creates obstacles to the processes due to bureaucratic inefficiency.
  • Red Hbitat: Provides advisory, training, and research; carries out communications plans to generate impact.
  • Confederation of Private Businessmen: Build housing, without fulfilling the technical requirements.

4.- Program or project components

  • Research: The diagnosis undertaken in Viacha served to identify the needs of the affected population.
  • Training: Training has been imparted on organization forms, elaboration of development plans, analysis of the Sub-Program of Risk Reduction and Disaster Response, promotion and political pressure, and elaboration of Project Profiles.
  • Technical advisory: Organizational strengthening.
  • Communication: Elaboration of a communications strategy to apply political pressure and achieve impact at the local and national levels.

5.- Main instruments used

  • Formation and training: Workshops, roundtables, and documents.
  • Participative process: Organization of an Inter-Institutional Committee, constant collection of information and interviews, involving the institution in the process.
  • Information and communication: Radial programs, press releases, forums.
  • Agreements and contracts: Minutes are maintained and commitments are signed.

6.- Achievements and primary lessons learned


  • A delegate is named from the Ministry of Housing and Basic Services to directly coordinate actions with the Committee.
  • A Municipal Resolution was passed which certifies that the 13 affected regions are not black zones, through pressure applied by the Committee on the Municipal Council, following an evaluation carried out by professionals from the Armed Forces, Red Habitat, and the Municipal Government.
  • The Rehabilitation Plan elaborated by the ADV was used.
  • The Ministry of Housing and Basic Services committed to channeling $US 2,500 to each flood victim for reconstruction of their home on the same plot.
  • The new homes must be good-quality and have basic services.
  • There is coordination with the private construction companies which will be in charge of the housing construction.
  • Following demands by the Inter-Institutional Committee, work began to treat the Pallina River and the garbage dump.

Lessons learned:

  • Passive citizenship must be replaced with active citizen presence and interaction with the national and local governments.
  • Citizen participation should seek greater influence in the government and a higher margin of governance.
  • New forms of citizen organization should be stimulated (Roundtables, Promotion Committees, Inter-Institutional Committees, Forums) as mechanisms of dialogue and representation.
  • Practices of corporative, subordinated, and authoritative relations with the government must be eliminated.
  • Active citizenship must be promoted which aspires to play leading roles in decision-making on issues of public interest.
  • Citizen participation is a system which allows a more democratic, plural, and transparent space for governmental exercise through the construction of active and mobilized citizenship, which presents proposals to respond to its needs and those of society as a whole.
  • A specific structure must be designed for citizen participation which also implies democratization of the neighborhood organizations.
  • A communications strategy must be established for neighborhood organizations and between them and the base populations.
  • A leadership training and formation process must be fomented.

7.- Key words

Bolivia, La Paz, Viacha, housing, risk, vulnerability, natural disasters, organization, Natural Disaster Victims Association, Inter-Institutional Committee, rehabilitation plan, citizen participation, political pressure, social control, housing reconstruction, housing rehabilitation.

8.- Sources

Notebook N 1 DIAGNOSTICO URBANO Desastres Naturales en la ciudad de Viacha. RED HBITAT, April 2001.
Notebook N 2 Participacin Ciudadana y Rehabilitacin de Viacha. RED HBITAT, May 2001.
PROGRAMA NACIONAL DE SUBSIDIO DE VIVIENDA Resultados de su aplicacin en la ciudad de El Alto. RED HBITAT, May 2001.

9.- Contacts

Av. Juan Pablo II N 606, Villa Tunari, El Alto
Casilla 4009 La Paz, Bolivia
Tel: (591-2) 864230
Fax: (591-2) 865350

• Disasters and Housing   • Housing and Environment   • Housing and Land Rights / Right to Adequate Housing   • Infrastructure    • People’s Housing Processes   • Planning   • Technical Areas of Housing   

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