30 Aug 2016
Puerto Rico: El Caño Martín Peña leadership

With our Puerto Rican Global Compact partners and friends we are proud to be supporting the el Caño Martín Peña community, organised as the G8,  and the Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña, the development authority that works with and for them. Their many years of hard work, advocacy and innovation will soon to be recognised internationally. The community and their strong innovative land trust will be formally awarded the 2015-16 UN World Habitat Award at Habitat III in Quito.

The el Caño Martín Peña community in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan is a community of some 25, 000 people who live in the centre of the city along a channel that has diminished considerably over the years and is highly polluted, its regular flooding has had catastrophic health, social and economic impacts on the community. As well as taking leadership in the monitoring and environment management of these floods and restoration of, they have also developed a unique model for bringing tenure to informal settlements and prevent gentrification, which UN-Habitat has recently recognised.

On another front, we are collaborating with El Caño on research to assess the impact of this flooding on residents and on the Puerto Rican economy.

Fideicomiso de la Tierra – leading community land trust

Created by the residents of el Caño Martín Peña, the Fideicomiso de la Tierra is the first community land trust in Puerto Rico. It seeks to combat poverty and bring environmental justice. The prize that Fideicomiso de la Tierra will be acknowledged for at the 2015-16 UN World Habitat Awards (but was announced earlier this year) honours innovative and replicable initiatives that address issues affecting human settlements.

The obstruction of the channel (the main challenge of the community) leads to constant flooding and the polluting of waters, affecting the health and safety of thousands. Its ecosystem restoration is being led by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE. Land Trust members collectively own 200 acres of valuable land, while also owning surface rights to the plot of land where their homes are located.

“With the support of partners and collaborators, the communities along the Martín Peña channel designed an innovative tool to prevent gentrification as an unintended consequence of urban and environmental restoration projects, while addressing the lack of formal land titles through collective ownership,” María E. Hernández Torrales, the Fideicomiso’s board president, explained. “These communities have placed Puerto Rico once again as a reference point in housing innovation.”

RMIT Economic Assessment of the impact of flooding on el Caño Martín Peña residents

Last year we met with community leaders at a meeting in el Caño Martín Peña organised by Globco. An economic assessment of the flooding’s impact on households was presented as a pressing need to support the case for dredging of the channel. Following this meeting, RMIT academics and Cities Programme Urban Scholars, Professor Simon Feeny and Dr Alberto Posso—who have specific expertise relating to the economic assessment of shocks on vulnerable communities—were informed about this need. From Australia and working in close partnership with ENLACE they designed a collaborative project, methodology and survey instrument to assess the impact of flooding on el Caño Martín Peña residents’ households. The survey tool is currently being developed into a mobile application to be delivered by community members.

This tool has been funded by Globco, who represent Global Compact participants in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican foundation Fundación Francisco Carvajal Inc. have also contributed to the project by providing funding to employ community members to deliver the survey. ENLACE and the G8 are coordinating the project on the local level.

Posso and Feeny visited Puerto Rico earlier this year to meet with the community and ENLACE and to finalise the development of the survey tool and methodology. They expressed that they were hugely impressed by the community, their knowledge, leadership and commitment to improving the lives of residents and the natural environment.

The community and ENLACE has recently been successful in a federal decision to undertake an environmental assessment and proceed with the channel, which has been welcomed after many years of lobbying. Carmen L. Alméstica Febres, president of the G-8 said “The approval of the feasibility study is an important step, the result of our struggle for human rights, environmental justice and health of thousands of residents of our communities.”

Posso and Feeny’s study of the impacts of the flooding on el Caño Martín Peña households—if undertaken before and after the dredging—will enable a baseline from which to understand, quantify, measure and document the social and economic impacts of the flooding and demonstrate the improvements during and post the environmental restoration work.

We look forward to seeing the results of this study, for the benefit of the el Caño Martín Peña community and for other communities facing similar challenges.

Links: See NBC News Article

Documentary: Agua Mala