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Project Summary


Urbanisation continues to drive the growth of informal settlements on land exposed to hazards, increasing risk particularly among low-income populations, and heightening the need to improve the resilience of such communities. Informal settlements growing up steep hillsides and ravines are particularly exposed to landslides, which are a major cause of death in developing countries. In order to reduce disasters, we need to anticipate these through managing risk. Many ways of managing landslide risk are known, ranging from building physical protection barriers to raising awareness to prepare communities. However, in developing countries these measures are often difficult to implement, not only because of lack of resources but also due to complex social, economic, political and institutional reasons.

This project aimed to explore the scope for, and acceptability of, landslide risk-reducing strategies for informal settlements from the community and state perspectives; to understand the barriers to landslide risk-reducing strategies; and identify politically and practically viable approaches to landslide risk-reducing strategies within a wider and more complex context of social and physical risk.

We explored these issues in the city of Medellin, Colombia, which has received many accolades for its urban planning and design and has become a ‘model’ for cities elsewhere. Despite the city’s successes, informal settlement growth on land at risk of landslides continues to be a major problem due to its topography. Lessons learnt about landslide risk management in this city have the potential to be easily disseminated across the developing world.


In Medellin, despite the awareness of risk raised by key tragic landslides in its recent history and the arguments used by the City Administration to relocate parts of informal settlements based on geological studies, the residents of these areas resist relocation and protest that the local government has other motives. The project worked in NE Medellin, where there is a high concentration of ‘at risk’ settlements, and in particular in Comuna 8, where disagreements between community and public agencies are most pronounced.


The findings from these activities were then reflected on by workshops bringing together community, public sector and third sector across what has been designated as a ‘Strategic Intervention Area’ (NE Medellin) in order to explore viable ways of achieving joint decision-making around landslide risk mitigation.

This research was funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Resilience Foundation Awards made available by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).


Medellín, Colombia


University of Edinburgh

Heriot-Watt University

Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede Medellín

Research Team

Harry Smith

Françoise Coupe

Gabriela M. Medero

Jose Humberto Caballero Acosta

Soledad Garcia-Ferrari

Carlos Montoya

Carlos Velásquez

Wilmar Edgardo Castro

Helena Rivera

Funding Body

Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Resilience Foundation Awards

External Links

This explores the perceptions of risk and related narratives within the community and among relevant public sector agencies, and the implications of such perceptions and narratives for the adoption of risk-mitigating strategies and actions.

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perceptions of risk
perceptions of risk

Pilot and test of informal settlement community-managed landslide risk monitoring and mitigation techniques. It is at the community and individual household level, with potential to be rolled out on a wider scale through community-based researchers and trainers.

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community-based monitoring
community-based monitoring

Understanding different household-level or 'simple' technology used in individual households to mitigate risk.

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appropriate technology mitigation
appropriate technology mitigation

Collaboratively identifying mechanisms to develop a sustainable process of risk-mitigation strategy-building and implementation through agreement between informal settlement communities and relevant state agencies at different geographic scales.

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negotiated risk management
negotiated risk management
Resilience or resistance? Negotiated mitigation of landslide risks in informal settlements in Medellin
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