The form assumed contemporarily by spatial organization in South and Central America as a network of nodes and spatial linkages represents the outcome for the space of this region of long-acting external influences plus internal conditions that have – at different times in different ways – shaped spatial relationships and the manner in which space in this part of the world is planned. Naturally, the spatial structure of today’s economy is influenced further by globalization, with growing competition for access to resources, be these either mineral deposits or agricultural in nature. These impacts ensure that, notwithstanding the widely-voiced opinion on the need to protect nature in areas of the continent supporting moist tropical forests, and in the high Andes, the governments of the different countries continue to award concessions allowing corporations of global reach to exploit resources of value that are in demand worldwide. This aggressive “resources race” has its serious consequences with regard to the forms and scope the region’s spatial management and organization assume.
These processes ought to be regulated by spatial planning, which is thus failing to play its proper role at regional levels. Those researching South America refer without hesitation to the lack of planning and overexploitation of raw materials, with all the serious consequences this has for society, not least with regard to internal migration, expulsions, the impoverishment of groups in society deprived of their land, and so on.
Where abrupt and dangerous natural phenomena unfold in highly populated areas, they destroy buildings and infrastructure and, above all, cause death and injury among local inhabitants. In the case of the active Ecuadorean volcano Cotopaxi, eruptions have already posed considerable threats to nearby towns and cities due to activated mudslides (lahars) that flow rapidly down its slopes. Interviews conducted with inhabitants of vulnerable residential areas of the town of Latacunga have led the authors to conclude that – in danger zones associated with possible mudslides – the lack of building land, inappropriate management of the allocation of building plots and still-inadequate early warning and monitoring systems have favoured the chaotic spread of built-up areas and thus pose a threat to the lives of inhabitants should Cotopaxi erupt again.