Building Climate Resilience of Urban Systems through Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) in Latin America and the Caribbean

Published: 31 August 2021
Last edited: 31 August 2021
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CityAdapt promotes climate resilience in urban areas through the implementation of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for adaptation. CityAdapt strengthens the technical capacities of municipalities, policymakers, and citizens to analyze the impacts and vulnerabilities to climate change and identify appropriate nature-based solutions for urban planning. The project’s goal is to reduce the vulnerability of urban communities to current and future effects of climate change (flooding, drought, landslides, etc.) by mainstreaming urban Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) in city planning. It is carrying out EbA activities in urban areas and surrounding watersheds of Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico; Kingston, Jamaica; and San Salvador, El Salvador. These activities consist of the restoration of mangroves, forests and riparian areas, implementation of climate-smart agriculture, construction of water retention structures, establishment of community gardens, and installation of roof rainwater catchment systems, among others.


Central America
North America
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
Marine and coastal ecosystems
River, stream
Tropical deciduous forest
Tropical evergreen forest
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Disaster risk reduction
Ecosystem services
Gender mainstreaming
Watershed management
Other theme
Green and Sustainable Cities
Urban and Disaster Risk Management
Resilience and disaster risk management
Erratic rainfall
Extreme heat
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Storm surges
Ecosystem loss
Infrastructure development
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Sustainable development goals
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Sendai Framework
Target 1: Reduce global disaster mortality by 2030
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030
Target 3: Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to GDP by 2030
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with associations


San Salvador, San Salvador, El Salvador | Jamaica, Mexico
Kingston, Saint Andrew, Jamaica
Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico


The three countries are extremely vulnerable to climate impacts. More hurricanes strike the region every year and with greater strength and more rain, which leads to flooding, landslides, loss of life and, of course, major economic damages, especially along the coast where tourism is strong, and many people live. Many countries are facing more severe droughts, punctuated by intense rains over short periods, representing a trend of increasingly erratic precipitation patterns. Drought combined with intense rains exacerbates environmental degradation related to deforestation and eroded soils. Climate impacts are especially dire in terms of economies, as a large percentage of the population works in rainfed agriculture. This has led to social challenges, including community instability with many people migrating to slums in urban areas without basic infrastructure and higher crime rates. Likewise, many also make dangerous trips northward to the United States.


194,090 people (50% women) across the three cities and countries

190 decision-makers and planning officials (50% female)

Women’s producer groups, coffee farmers, community youth groups from local schools, etc.

How do the building blocks interact?

Firstly, the gender-differentiated vulnerability assessment (block 1) helps identify key areas and sectors of the population to target with NbS. As it is a participatory process, it helps build the capacity, relationships and coordination across community stakeholders and government agencies needed for implementation and ownership.  The actual implementation of Nature-based Solutions (block 2) creates tangible benefits in terms of livelihoods and reduced risk of climate change induced disasters (flooding and landslides) as well as water scarcity. Learning activities such as workshops during and after implementation, cost-effectiveness analyses, monitoring of project activities and knowledge dissemination via demonstration sites and communications products (block 3) help to spread learning about the project and encourage its further integration into city planning and replication elsewhere.


Environmental: To date, CityAdapt has restored some twenty kilometers of riparian areas and more than 300 hectares of forest and coffee plantations (agroforestry), including the digging of infiltration ditches to absorb water and reduce flood risk while ensuring reliable supplies throughout the year. This work reduces the risk of dangerous flooding and subsequent landslides.


Social: Women are included fully in project design and implementation, including alternative livelihood projects such as beekeeping and mushroom cultivation. This inclusion has helped create a space for discussion on gender issues and greater sense of self-advocacy. Additionally, CityAdapt’s vulnerability assessments use a gender-differentiated approach to capture how climate change affects men and women differently, ensuring the project activities target more marginalized parts of society with greater need, which often tends to be women heads of households.


Economic: Community rainwater harvesting systems have helped build social cohesion for managing hydrological resources together. Access to that water saves communities time and money that would otherwise be spent collecting water far away or paying for its delivery. Alternative livelihoods (mushroom cultivation, beekeeping) are generating additional sources of income, including an extra $152 USD per month for Xalapan households.



Sponge City


In 2020, Tropical Storm Amanda descended on El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, causing more than 150 landslides and 20 floods and tearing apart roads, power lines, and some 30,000 homes.

Farmer Hector Velasquez, whose land sits on the slopes of San Salvador Volcano, was in the storm’s path, which dumped two metres of rain on his farm, sparking a landslide that wiped out 3,000 m2, or an area about half the size of a football field.


“The landslides take away all the crops planted in that area, so you need to reinvest,” says Velasquez, 42, a father of two. “It drains resources when resources are scarce, to begin with.”

When Velasquez was a child, rainfall in San Salvador was mostly a continuous-but-light drizzle spread across eight months. The soil had time to absorb the water. But, in recent years, climate change has made extreme storms more common in El Salvador. They are especially devastating around the capital, where pavement prevents rainfall from being absorbed.


In San Salvador, floods and landslides wash away valuable topsoil, and with it the fertility of the coffee plantations. “The soil, for us farmers, is the wealth of our farm,” says Velasquez. “If we don’t have it, we don’t produce.”


But a movement is underway to change that. City officials and coffee farmers like Velasquez, with support from UNEP, have launched CityAdapt to restore 1,150 hectares of forests and coffee plantations to revive San Salvador’s ability to absorb rainfall and produce coffee.

When vegetation is replaced with concrete, the ground loses its permeability. But trees and other vegetation can be used as sponges, drawing enormous quantities of water into the earth, preventing erosion, limiting floods and recharging groundwater for times of drought.


CityAdapt is also restoring hundreds of hectares of coffee farms like Velasquez’s destroyed by Amanda by installing infiltration ditches, imitating the drainage that streams and rivers used to provide naturally. It is building more than 62km of infiltration ditches in San Salvador and 3,514 fruit trees have been planted during reforestation to provide extra resources to local communities. 


Back on Hector Velasquez’s coffee farm, when asked what he would say to someone that doesn’t believe in climate change, he laughs: “We have a saying: There isn’t a person more blind than the one who doesn’t want to see. And there isn’t a person as deaf as the one who doesn’t want to hear.”

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Bryce Bray UNEP

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