Articles | Volume 14, issue 2
08 Feb 2010
 | 08 Feb 2010

Soil bioengineering for risk mitigation and environmental restoration in a humid tropical area

A. Petrone and F. Preti

Abstract. The use of soil bio-engineering techniques in developing countries is a relevant issue for disaster mitigation, environmental restoration and poverty reduction. Research on the autochthonal plants suitable for these kinds of interventions and on the economic efficiency of the interventions is essential for the dissemination of such techniques. The present paper is focused on these two issues as related to the realization of various typologies of soil bioengineering works in the humid tropics of Nicaragua.

In the area of Río Blanco, located in the Department of Matagalpa, soil bioengineering installations were built in several sites. The particular structures built were: drainages with live fascine mattress, a live palisade, a vegetated live crib wall for riverbank protection, a vegetative covering made of a metallic net and biotextile coupled with a live palisade made of bamboo. In order to evaluate the suitability of the various plants used in these works, monitoring was performed, one on the live palisade alongside an unpaved road and the other on the live crib wall along a riverbank, by collecting data on survival rate and morphological parameters. Concerning economic efficiency, we proceeded to a financial analysis of the works. Once the unit price was obtained, we converted the amount into EPP Dollars (Equal Purchasing Power) in order to compare the Nicaraguan context with the European one.

Among the species used we found that Gliricidia sepium (local common name: Madero negro) and Tabebuia rosea (local common name: Roble macuelizo) are adequate for soil bioengineering measures on slopes, while Erythrina fusca (local common name: Helequeme) resulted in successful behaviour only in the crib wall for riverbank protection.

In comparing costs in Nicaragua and in Italy, the unit price reduction for Nicaragua ranges from 1.5 times (for the vegetative covering) to almost 4 times (for the fascine mattress), using the EPP dollar exchange rate.

Our conclusions with regard to hydrological-risk mitigating actions performed on a basin scale and through naturalistic (live) interventions are that they are not only socially and technically possible, even in hardship areas (by maximizing the contribution of the local labour force and minimizing the use of mechanical equipment), but also economically sustainable.