International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

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Disaster Reduction in Development after the IDNDR

Stephen O. Bender
Unit for Sustainable Development and Environment
Organization of American States


There are three principal development themes adopted by the countries of the hemisphere following the end of the Cold War:

1. Environment and Sustainable Development
2. Trade
3. Democracy

Each of these plays a part in the declarations, resolutions, plans of action, and programs at from the hemispheric and regional summits, conferences and meetings and from national development plans. They are today and for the foreseeable future the guideposts for shaping development actions.

On the disaster reduction front there are several groups which can be described in the following way:

  • Those who adhere to the window of opportunity following a disaster theory: During the 1997-1999 period approxi-mately half the countries of the hemisphere have suffered disasters necessitating international assistance.

  • Those who see the window of opportunity to reduce disaster impact before an event provokes the need for an international response.

  • Those who see little or no direct relationship between disaster vulnerability and development problems.

Four groups of actions with a focus on financial matters (while not always looking at economic and physical risk) are beginning to take place in the development area:

1. Debt forgiveness

2. Debt payment restructuring

3. Loan project reprogramming

4. New loan projects

The three principal questions as to mainstreaming disaster reduction in development and refer back to the three principal themes of development in the hemisphere.

The three questions for consideration are:


  1. To what extent must the structure and content of disaster management, particularly at the international and national levels, be remolded as an integral part of development activities?

  2. What are the limitations of cost/benefit analysis in justifying investments in vulnerability reduction and, in their absence, what justification will be used to such investments attending to the needs of the poor?

  3. What legacy of action will the IDNDR leave with international and regional organizations, institutions, corporations, and national and local governments and businesses, building on the already thousands of contributions to the Decade?

To the first question on remolding disaster management into development addresses the issue of environment and sustainable development because this theme of development points towards an integrated approach, towards multisectoral action and towards intergenerational responsibilities. It is critical that:

  • Use of terms of transformation after a disaster become a reality where vulnerability reduction of economic and social infrastructure become part of the development agenda, and

  • In countries not presently recovering from a major disaster, implementation of the Plan of Action of the Sustainable Development Summit calling for the incorporation of disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness becomes part of national development plans.

To do so:

  • Reconstruction activities must be carried out in the context of development decisions, not replacement projects

  • International and regional organizations and forums must assist and support national governments in exploring, discussing and adopting new disaster management structures which operate inside development activities and that those responsible for development projects are held accountable for risk and loss.

As to the second question of economic justification of investment in lower risk and protecting the poor, this question address directly the issue of trade. Free market capitalism and export-oriented economies are to provide the investments, jobs, earnings and revenues to meet development needs. Given that financial issues can take precedent over economic and physical environment issues, it is critical that:

  • We recognize that as we learn more about who is vulnerable and why, we will have to also learn how to use this information in a highly charged political, institutional and technical atmosphere,

  • We resist further movement to make "disaster management" a sector, but work towards full integration of disaster reduction in all development activities,

  • We associate the poor’s vulnerability to natural hazards with their other types of vulnerability so as to refocus where necessary development actions, and

  • We strengthen efforts to identify vulnerability reduction to natural hazards as part of environmental management even as new challenges are emerging from economic sectors to compartmentalize environmental concerns and manage them as a sector apart from economic production interests.

To do so, we must:

  • Deal with financial, economic and physical risk in a concurrent fashion,

  • Create new tools for vulnerability and risk assessment in the context of development projects, and

  • Clearly define for investment projects the anticipated financial, economic and physical risk levels due to natural hazards.

As to the third question of a legacy as we go forward, we must first and foremost recognize that an integrated, multisectoral approach to mainstreaming disaster reduction in development must take place in the context of national development plans as called for in the Sustainable Development Summit of Bolivia. These decisions must be carried out in democratic contexts with full societal participation for the definition of needs and the assignment of resources. Thus the sectors must take the lead forming the development agenda for the future, an agenda that includes vulnerability reduction of populations and their economic and social infrastructure.

  • Place vulnerability reduction on the agenda at the ministerial level during the next year, proposing regional and national actions through plans and programs to integrate vulnerability reduction into the heart of sector investments.

  • Prepare and adopt vulnerability reduction plans as part of sector development plans.

  • Report annually at the national, regional and hemispheric levels on disaster impact, vulnerability and mitigation efforts through sectoral and multilateral development mechanisms.