Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter for Latin America and the Caribbean Inssue No. 15, 1999
of the Results of the 1999
The best way to reflect the conclusions that emerged from the implementation of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) 10-year programme is to summarize the key results of the various thematic meetings organized as part of the IDNDR Forum. The following summary was presented by the Forums General Rapporteur, Dr. Robert Hamilton, Chairman of the Scientific and Technical Committee, during the Closing Session of the Forum.
Poverty: The people that are most vulnerable to natural disasters are the poor, who have very limited resources for avoiding losses. Environmental degradation resulting from poverty exacerbates disaster impacts. Without greater attention from policy makers and more support from donor agencies for disaster prevention action, many developing countries, particularly in Africa, will not be able to escape from this situation. Innovative approaches are needed; emphasis should be given to the programmes to promote community-based approaches.
Megacities and urban areas: Concentrations of population in major urban centers (megacities), many of which are located in hazard-prone areas and in developing countries, are highly vulnerable to natural and technological hazards due to dependence on complex infrastructures and occupation of marginal land. Greater attention should be given to developing resilient and redundant infrastructures through regional and land-use planning.
Communities: Most disaster prevention and mitigation action requires community acceptance and initiative, which must be based on a credible assessment of risks and realistic estimates of costs and benefits. Communities are generally knowledgeable about their own environments and coping mechanisms, and often of ways to reduce vulnerabilities. Community leadership also enhances independence and self-reliance. National, regional and international efforts towards disaster prevention and mitigation are essential, but should be seen as supportive of community-based actions.
Awareness: Public awareness of natural hazards and risks, the driving force for prevention action, should be solidly grounded in the best scientific and technological information and methodology. The IDNDR has promoted this goal and is seen as a key factor in increasing political sensitivities towards the need for disaster reduction measures and policies.
Warnings: Warnings for some types of hazards have saved many lives and are steadily improving, which is a major achievement during recent years. This has been made possible by improvements in monitoring, analytical, and communications systems. Nevertheless, further advances are possible and should be pursued. Warnings can be used to avoid disasters rather than just respond to them. Special attention should be given to delivering the right message to the right place at the right time.
Information: Advances in information technology in recent years now provide enormous resources for decision-makers. However, efforts are needed to distill this information into products that are tailored for the specific needs and delivered in a timely manner. Advances in communications technology make possible integration of real-time and archival data for emergency situations.
Education and training: Education and training for disaster reduction is a key, cross-cutting issue that must be an integral part of all programs. Creative use of films and videos, as well as of modern dissemination means, can be especially effective. Information must be seen as authoritative and credible, which can be achieved by linking experts with community leaders. Education resources provided by regional and international organizations, including NGOs, can be particularly helpful.
Partnerships: Partnerships involving public and private organizations can be particularly effective in linking stakeholders and implementing plans. The private sector may be able to promote mitigation by providing incentives, for example, by ensuring compliance to building codes that would reduce insurance premiums as a condition for coverage.
Risk management: Risk
management should be better integrated into overall developmental and
environmental planning. Cost effectiveness of proposed action is an essential
consideration. Post-disaster recovery and reconstruction provides the
opportunity and resources to implement prevention and mitigation for natural
disaster reduction as an essential element of sustainable development.
Improvements have been made in recent years in risk assessment and loss
Climate variability: The successful prediction of the El Niño phenomena during 1997-98 signaled an improving capability for forecasting climate variability. As climate variation affects the occurrence of natural hazards, such as drought, heavy rainfall with floods and landslides, and tropical cyclones, this development carries great implications for natural disaster reduction. In advance of El Niño, some communities took preventive action that significantly reduced potential impacts.
Environment and ecosystems: Natural hazards impact the environment and environmental degradation can exacerbate disasters. Small Island States and mountain communities can be especially vulnerable. Hazard and risk assessments should be improved to guide prevention and mitigation measures for protecting the environment.
Research: Substantive progress has been achieved in understanding the cause and effects of natural hazards. Nevertheless, further efforts are needed, especially with respect to risk assessment and warnings. Multi-disciplinary efforts are needed for many problems, especially to better integrate physical and social sciences.
Land use planning: When assessing the likelihood and possible severity of a disaster, the necessary information is collected to prevent risks by placing structures away from hazardous areas. This information should be incorporated into land use planning to prevent building on plains prone to flooding, coastal areas, and areas with known seismic faults or other high-risk areas.
Building codes and practices: In many cases, rather simple modifications to current building practices could greatly improve performance under hazard-induced stress. Retrofitting existing structures, however, poses a challenge due to cost. Emphasis is now being given to overall building performance, moving beyond the previous focus on life safety. Methods have been advanced for better housing construction using local materials, which should be more broadly communicated.
Loss data: Reliable data on natural disaster losses, other than human casualties, are very limited. Standard methods should be employed for collecting such data. National statistics on losses could be used to measure progress on disaster reduction.
Framework: The international and regional framework provided by the IDNDR has greatly assisted many nations in focusing attention on the threat posed by natural hazards and the means for mitigating their impacts. Of great importance, through the IDNDR many high-level decision-makers have become aware of the vulnerabilities and the opportunities to reduce them. It is of the utmost importance that such a framework is provided in the future beyond the decade.