There are about 1,400 locations with landslide problems in Costa Rica.

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If you plan to buy land, you should be aware of the areas that are especially prone to landslides or unstable underground, such as: Turrialba, Paraiso (Orosi), Santiago de Puriscal, and San Ignacio de Acosta, among others.

The Colegio de Ingenieros Civiles de Costa Rica (CIC) – Association of Civil Engineers of Costa Rica – warned about the constant threat of a landslide to houses, buildings, and vital installations (water supply, roads, power lines, etc.) in the 1,400 weak points detected in the country.

This information stems from a report about a project called “Instability problems of mountain sides in Costa Rica, an initiative under the sponsorship of the CIC. Mr. Miguel Bolanos, coordinator of the project, explained that the purpose of the research was to set up a geographical information system, which makes possible specific terrain studies, and at the same time serves to build up a database of the areas most affected by landslide problems.

“With the investigation we were expecting about 600 case studies, but with the coordinated effort of other institutions (Central University, National University, National Commission of Emergencies, and the LANAMME) we were able to expand to 1,400 detailed studies , said Bolanos.

He pointed out that the CIC does not intenr to block construction in the most endangered counties and districts. However, he made it clear that it should be an encouragement to prevent situations, which could endanger the main asset of a family: the house and all possessions contained within.

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Mapping of zones:

During the initial phase of the project, data was collected about areas vulnerable to landslides. Once this data was processed, it was organized into zoning maps, with the help of specialized software; the geographical information was then detailed into magnitude, type, origin, and the amount of losses, both in human lives and properties, in each one of the cases.

Bolanos went on: “this is an instrument which allows the professional (engineers, architects, etc.) and other interested users to retrieve exact information about where a landslide has occurred, together with additional details about its extent, neighboring buildings, and more.”

This information is also available to municipalities in the affected areas, so that it can be included in regulated zoning and building plans, in order to avoid the congestion of buildings, houses and others in vulnerable locations.

Within the national boundaries, the provinces diagnosed with the greatest amount of landslide problems (on a bigger and smaller level) were: San Jose, Cartago and Alajuela. The capital San Jose stands out with 656 of the total of landslides analyzed until November, whereas the other two provinces accounted for 232 and 143 of the cases.

The provinces with the lowest records were Limon with 20, and Guanacaste with 13.

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Sources and challenges:

The main cause of landslides is not the environment of Costa Rica but the foolish decisions made by human beings. This means building too close at river embankments and steep mountainsides, where the risk of situations with soil instability is increased.

“The problem is greatly increased by those very low income persons who decide to build by themselves, without any technical guidance and/or supervision, in areas affected by rain or seismic conditions , engineer Bolanos commented.

The research revealed that in the Greater Metropolitan Area (GMA) a 55% of the country’s total landslides occur, and that the main cause of this problematic percentage was building too close to river embankments.

In the province of San Jose, the counties of Desamparados, San Jose Central, Perez Zeledon, Puriscal and Acosta were the most affected, whereas for the other provinces the landslide-indices are the following:

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: Turrialba, Paraiso, Cartago and Jimenez.

: Grecia, Alajuela, San Carlos and San Ramon.

Santo Domingo, Santa Barbara and Heredia.

: Parrita, Montes de Oro and Esparza.

: Siquirres, Talamanca and Limon.

: Tilaran and Abangares.

One of the major challenges, associated with these problems, lies in the application of preventive measures, i.e. the ban on building in endangered areas. This can be achieved only if all the organizations implicated with the planning stage are joining their efforts.

Bolanos added, that an up-to-date inventory of landslides, flood-risk areas, and other nature threats, is being set up.

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Another objective of the project is to encourage municipalities to achieve and manage their own regulatory plan, which would include high-risk areas such as landslides, avalanches, flood areas, and ban construction in the jeopardized sites.

The most vulnerable areas are:

Turrialba (441)

Orosi (26)

Santiago de Puriscal (24)

San Marcos de Terrazu (21)

San Ignacio de Acosta (21)

San Rafael de Montes de Oca (21)

San Miguel de Desamparados (19)

Ciudad Colon (17)

La Uruca (16)

Patarra (15)

Salitral (15)

Source: Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos (CFIA).

Our thanks to Gloriana Gomez and our friends at La Nacin – Costa Rica’s largest Spanish circulation newspaper for their permission to use this article…

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