IDNDR Meeting: Towards Natural Disaster Reduction in the Americas Into
the 21st Century
During the 1990-1999
Decade, thanks to the support of many collaborating regional, international,
national and non-governmental organizations, the Americas witnessed the
launching of many joint initiatives, exchanges, educational programmes
and scientific and technical cooperation agreements. The IDNDR served
as a platform to promote closer ties among governments, NGOs, community
organizations, international organizations and the private sector, in
order to work jointly on risk reduction projects and programmes.
The closing of the
Decade brought with it a series of regional and thematic meetings in 1999
to evaluate the achievements so far and the challenges ahead. They culminated
in the IDNDR Programme Forum, which was held in Geneva in July 1999. ECOSOC,
in its substantive session of the same month, ratified the International
Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) and agreed that this Strategy should
be part of the United Nations permanent development efforts (see
separate story). The Hemispheric Meeting of the Americas allowed participants
to evaluate the work done so far, exchange experiences and ideas, and
make plans for the 21st Century in disaster and risk reduction. The meeting
was held during the first week in June 1999 in San José, Costa
Rica, with the participation of 630 people, including official delegates,
technical and academic experts, community leaders, NGOs and multilateral
agencies from 33 countries.
The organizers of
the meeting were the government of Costa Rica, the National Emergency
Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UN International Decade
for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), and the Pan American Health Organization/World
Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).
the Resource Centre for the Sustainable Development of Human Settlements
in Central America (CERCA-CDP-UNCHS-Habitat), the International Labour
Organization (ILO), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Coordination Centre
for Natural Disaster Prevention in Central America (CEPREDENAC), the Caribbean
Disaster and Emergency Response Agency (CDERA), the Quebec Commercial
Bureau for Central America (Canada), the Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance
(OFDA), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Network for
Social Studies for Disaster Prevention (LA RED) helped to co-sponsor the
meeting through parallel sessions, workshops and/or financing. British,
Canadian and Swedish Development Agencies (DFID, CIDA and SIDA) were part
of sponsoring organizations.
After several days
of discussions and consensus building among the participants, including
official delegates, agency representatives and other stakeholders, a Final
Declaration was agreed upon, including a widespread desire for the demilitarization
of disaster response, as revealed in the following paragraph:
To bring to the attention of the United Nations the attribution of special
recognition to those countries that reorient part of their defense budget
to disaster reduction.
To read the full text
of the San José Declaration, go to http://www.disaster.info.desastres.net/idndr/idndr.htm
and click on the links labeled Proceedings, or send a request to the editor
of this magazine.
of the Countries that Participated in the Hemispheric Meeting
British Virgin Islands
Trinidad & Tobago
U.S. Virgin Islands
of the conclusions and recommendations for the future of Latin
America and the Caribbean in disaster reduction are summarized below.
of Achievements and Challenges in the Region (PAHO/WHO, OAS, SICA, Ibero
American Association for Civil Protection)
- Although disasters
are assessed in human and social terms, the economic and political dimensions
of such events tend to impose themselves when it comes to making decisions.
The principles of disaster mitigation and vulnerability reduction are
universal; their application, however, depends on the language spoken,
the prevailing culture, and the economic wellbeing of the country in
question. There are no standard solutions that fit both developed
and developing countries.
- At the same time,
a culture of prevention requires a collective attitude that can only
be the result of a prolonged social process. Within this process, key
factors include the wide dissemination of information about disasters,
as well as a growing participation by civil society. The expansion of
the Internet has played a key role in the management of recent disasters,
mainly by promoting a more equal approach to communication and power-sharing
among agencies, countries, local communities and individuals.
- Much remains to
be done. We need a stronger national commitment to disaster reduction,
including the necessary political will and legal framework. Resources
for disaster prevention need to be explicitly allocated.
- The commitment
of policy-makers tends to diminish with each passing day in the aftermath
of a disaster. Disaster prevention and mitigation require different
skills and attitudes from those demanded by emergency response. Logistics
cannot be disregarded. Operational capacity must be in place. But there
is also a need for patience, determination, discipline even a
sense of urgency when there is no short-term emergency to trigger it.
Urban planning, economics, engineering, policy-making these are
all disciplines that must play a role, and cannot be tapped in haste
by an institution that has been isolated by the onset of a disaster
or, worse still, is isolated by nature.
- The future requires
synergy between environmental protection and disaster reduction. Response
mechanisms need to be strengthened through the participation of civil
society. The vision that must prevail cannot be exclusively economical,
but must take into account all relevant social and human issues. At
the international level, the United Nations must provide the necessary
support to encourage strong subregional organizations and technical
cooperation mechanisms for disaster reduction.
- In recent years,
the region has seen intense theoretical-conceptual and practical activity
aimed at disaster reduction. Momentum has been aided, among other factors,
by advances in knowledge production, including interdisciplinary links
hard to find in other fields, as well as innovative forms of social
participation and greater awareness among the citizenry, all of which
have been motivated by the occurrence of several major disasters.
- However, this
rich accumulation of experiences and efforts runs the risk of fragmentation
into multiple, scattered initiatives, degrading its major potential
strength: that of systematizing a variety of disciplines and capabilities.
It is therefore essential to promote this systematization throughout
the various levels of decision making in order to make the socially
responsible management of disaster prevention a reality.
- For these purposes,
it is necessary to promote a socially coordinated process of research
and planning, as a foundation to create the conditions of viability
and feasibility required to make advances in this sector. Such a process
must go through several levels of integration, so that the short-term
operational units (projects) can be linked according to their mutual
affinity in programmes, and these in turn can find their strategic directionality
in national plans.
- On the other hand,
we have enough information to set priorities concerning the chief problems
in the creation and evaluation of these planning instruments and in
calling on the various social stakeholders who can intervene in its
of the National Reports Presented by Official Country Delegates: Experiences,
Advances and Challenges
that the Decade provided a framework for promoting disaster management
from a preventive point of view involving all sectors and stakeholders
at the national, local and community level.
detailed reports on the actions undertaken within the IDNDR framework.
Although each country has its own geographical and climate characteristics,
it was agreed that the most common hazards in the region are floods, landslides,
drought, and technological hazards brought about by increasing industrial
development. The El Niño Phenomenon is a recurring event that has
considerable impact on the region, although it also has positive effects
that must be exploited.
Some countries in
the region reinforced their emergency plans and programmes to the point
where they were even able to help neighbouring countries, highlighting
the regions capabilities, strengths and opportunities to deal with
Certain advances were identified in the field of higher education, where
there has been a greater openness to careers involving civil protection
and disaster management in general. Participants also underscored the
advances made in the development of risk maps and bibliographical and
place in the organization and planning of the institutions involved in
disaster management, complementing the efforts undertaken in the past
20 years. In most countries, permanent and systematic efforts are underway
to create new legal, administrative and policy structures that will increase
the effectiveness, timeliness and coordination of disaster reduction tasks.
A greater emphasis
has been placed on prevention and mitigation. Greater investments have
been made in infrastructural retrofitting and reinforcement, and important
improvements have taken place in response capacity and early warning systems.
at the municipal and community level for disaster prevention and mitigation
has been strengthened, particularly in the fields of training, education,
credit systems have been strengthened. However, two weaknesses remain:
lack of resources to follow up on prevention and response measures, and
out-of-date legislation that does not provide sufficient autonomy to disaster
Challenges in the Three Subregions
(based on the national reports)
to build disaster response capacity, particularly in the fields of prevention
and mitigation, including risk assessments and strategy development.
Integrate prevention and mitigation into all environmental protection
and sustainable development plans. Include the risk variable
in development projections.
- Follow up on plans
and projects launched during the International Decade for Natural Disaster
Reduction, with international support.
- Increase the availability
of human and financial resources, including the participation of professionals,
scientists and technicians in each relevant field, and improve forecasting
and early warning systems.
- Seek support for
disaster prevention and mitigation projects involving international
agencies and local NGOs.
- Develop the necessary
legal framework to facilitate disaster reduction, including the cross-sectoral
revision of all pertinent legislation.
- Strengthen cooperation
and coordination among the nations in the hemisphere. Caribbean countries,
for example, agreed on the need for greater subregional integration
in disaster prevention. Ecuador recommended the establishment of an
International Centre for the Study of the El Niño Phenomenon.
Participants also recommended that Andean Pact countries get together
to develop a project for subregional integration in civil protection
and defense, and they recommended the appointment of regional technical
and scientific committees dedicated to disaster reduction.
- Establish inter-institutional
coordination mechanisms among international relief agencies.
- Introduce disaster
prevention and mitigation into all relevant curricula in every country,
from grade school to higher education. Promote a culture of disaster
prevention through specific programs, in all countries where no such
programs exist at present.
- Encourage the
media to promote a culture of disaster prevention, by creating training
programs for journalists.
- Involve other
sectors, such as the insurance industry, in disaster prevention and
mitigation activities, so as to facilitate risk assessment and reduce
the costs of natural disasters.
- Strengthen urban
and rural human settlement planning, given the increase of population
in the region.
- Standardize disaster
prevention and mitigation terminology throughout the region.
- Develop mechanisms
for the ongoing training of emergency and disaster prevention, mitigation,
preparedness and response personnel.
- Strengthen the
multi-sectoral participation of national-level institutions entrusted
with emergency and disaster response.
- Improve the monitoring
of natural phenomena at the local and regional level.
Policy and Disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean (OFDA, Quebec,
CERCA, Central American Community Network)
Towards the end of
the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, civil defense organizations
began to appear throughout Latin America, within the framework of the
growing number of military governments and a regional rise in the political
power of the armed forces. With a focus on civil protection, some of these
institutions began to assume specific police functions, and later took
on responsibilities for disaster relief. Others were formed as specialized
units directly under the jurisdiction of the military forces.
relief organizations grew out of the need to have civil structures able
to effect multi-sectoral integration. In some cases, they were formed
out of a natural collection of mutually interested parties; in other cases,
they were created in imitation of modalities already being used in other
countries, as a means of effecting swift official organization. This latter
scenario gave rise to hybrid structures that mixed certain innovative
characteristics with characteristics of traditional civil defense organizations.
Currently, both types
of organizations exist in the region, covering a spectrum from purely
military, or paramilitary, structures to inter-institutional organizations.
Despite these differences, there is a predominant focus on disaster response
preparation governed by a general discourse that highlights the importance
of prevention and relief.
In sum, we are in
the midst of an ongoing process of organizational adjustment. The challenge
remains of improving the prevention and response capabilities of existing
structures, but within a broader and more comprehensive strategy that
integrates the responsibilities and duties of organized communities.
Risk management opens
new possibilities, when understood as a strategy designed to affect the
conditions that determine the types of risks posed by specific disasters.
Advancing the work of risk management requires interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral
collaboration that takes on a sense of social worth and does not rest
solely on the shoulders of institutions.
It is important to
foster political will for disaster management, which integrates its social
and economic aspects within the framework of the changing paradigm currently
under development. This paradigm re-conceptualizes the nature of disasters,
turning them into focal points of the political agendas in affected countries.
The issue of disasters must be addressed, analyzed and then converted
into real public policies that help solve the underlying problems. Furthermore,
this paradigm includes within it the new and implicit conflicts that emerge
with the conceptualization of disasters as processes. These ideological
conflictsover power, increased costs and the use of resourcesmust
be overcome as part of the means of finding a way for the involved actors
to work together as a team.
expressed their concern that Latin American governments have systematically
bypassed local communities in all matters pertaining to disasters, even
though the worst disasters for communities are the social
and economic policies that impoverish local communities, increasing their
about Vulnerable Cities, Urban Policies and Community Participation
We live in a time
of change when we must constantly face the new challenges posed by development,
promoting important transformations to distribute its benefits in an equitable
manner to the majority of the population, especially in the provision
of decent and secure housing for all. To this end it is essential to expand
and consolidate the spaces and mechanisms for social and political participation
at all levels.
This was decided at
the Seventh Meeting of MINURVI (Regional Meeting of Ministers and Authorities
of the Housing Sector and Urban Development of Latin America and the Caribbean).
At that meeting, community participation was established as one of the
main thematic areas for the definition of national strategies by the Housing
Sector, vulnerability to natural disasters and land use.
Many problems must
be overcome before there can be a true strengthening of community participation
in risk management, particularly given the threat of manipulation through
top-down communication, the official recognition of representatives
that do not necessary respect the will of the community, a lack of vertical
communication linking the various organizations working in this field,
and initiatives that are motivated more by partisan vote-getting than
by the desire to improve quality of life at the community level.
Conclusions and Challenges
- City planning
based on watersheds offers advantages over that based on administrative
- Land use regulation
is a key factor in disaster prevention and mitigation. It also strengthens
the role of the municipalities and communities in disaster prevention
- It is necessary
to train municipalities and communities, making technical language uniform
and accessible to the population.
- It is necessary
to produce and disseminate timely technical hazard information to authorities
and communities, to aid in the decision-making process.
- Local governments
must budget funds for emergency preparedness. Authority, jurisdiction
and resources must be given at the local level, because of the demonstrated
efficiency and importance of so doing.
- In many cases
there must be more political will to apply current land use and zoning
legislation in order to prevent and mitigate disasters.
on the Role of Reconstruction for Sustainable Reduction of Natural Disasters
(UNDP, La RED)
The many dimensions
of the reconstruction process, unless they are approached from a systemic
point of view, often lead to situations in which dealing with some of
the problems actually has a negative impact on other problems. The reconstruction
of the social fabric, local culture and identity, and other psychosocial
factors among refugees and migrants, is one of the most complex and less
thoroughly explored aspects of disaster response. The lack of information
about this vital subject means that while cities are rebuilt and families
are relocated, individuals and groups must cope in isolation with the
phenomenal task of rebuilding their cultural and social identity, even
their basic sense of self.
are a window of opportunity for countries and social groups to reduce
their poverty and social and economic segregation by gaining access to
otherwise unavailable funds. However, such opportunities are wasted unless
the intervening institutions display some sensitivity towards the cultural
characteristics of the society in question. Similar problems may occur
if humanitarian agencies perpetuate or increase dependency on foreign
aid by discouraging autonomy and empowerment.
- For populations
to have a friendlier relationship with their environment, and not a
predatory approach, we must build local capacity and encourage decentralized
- We must not rebuild
risk. Conditions need to be in place to transform reconstruction
efforts, reducing or eliminating risk and building greater local capacity,
freedom and autonomy to seek a greater balance between society and nature.
- We must look carefully
at the right of communities to design their own reconstruction and transformation
processes within a framework of respect for their own culture, organization
and needs. If the matter is not handled with sensitivity, the provision
of supplies and other aid might have a negative impact on social organization
or increase dependency.
strategies, particularly those pertaining to livelihoods and communication,
must show a greater respect for the environment. All investments must
contribute to the health of ecosystems, rather than to their further
erosion. Reconstruction, as a complex process, must be multisectoral,
inter-institutional and highly participatory. International financial
institutions must support such approaches.
- Poverty, unemployment,
economic migration or spatial and social segregation must be reduced
if disaster mitigation is to be truly effective. All private and public
sector activities must be guided by a risk management perspective.
for Disaster Mitigation in Health Facilities: Vulnerability Assessments
and Mitigation (PAHO/WHO)
- Many countries
still need to carry out demonstration projects to build the technical
capacity needed to motivate decision-makers and encourage the kinds
of actions needed for effective hospital mitigation. Physical and functional
(non-structural) risk assessment and mitigation must become more closely
intertwined in health facilities, and networking and the exchange of
success stories and lessons learned must continue to be promoted among
health and disaster reduction professionals in the region.
- Mitigation projects
must be based on reliable information about existing hazards and their
characteristics. Seismic and meteorological monitoring networks must
be established to guide risk assessment and mitigation. Current building
codes and other legislation may provide baseline criteria for physical
protection, but do not provide real protection for investments or basic
- Institutions and
professionals throughout the hemisphere must participate more actively
in the creation of an international system for disaster mitigation.
The PAHO/WHO Disaster Mitigation Centre in Colorado can play a leadership
role in the creation of such a system.
- Mitigation projects
must be subject to a certification process that validates their effectiveness
and generates public trust. Such a process must be part of local or
institutional strategies that can be validated nationally and internationally.
- Efforts must continue
in the development of technical criteria for functional protection.
Projects must incorporate the necessary human and technical capacity
and expertise in structural, non-structural and organizational mitigation.
Every stage in a project, from its conception to its execution, must
incorporate a strict and verifiable process of quality control.
- Countries must
continue to strengthen the implementation of the recommendations made
at the International Conference on Disaster Mitigation in Health Facilities,
held in Mexico in 1996.
about Advances in Disaster Mitigation in Water Supply and Sanitation Systems
- Recent disasters,
particularly Hurricane Mitch, reveal one thing. Progress has been made
in developing vulnerability assessment methodologies. But these have
yet to be fully integrated into service planning, operations, maintenance,
retrofitting and rehabilitation.
- Risk conditions
continue to be replicated, even when it comes to the reconstruction
of damaged or destroyed services. In general, water mains continue to
be repaired using the same materials, the same installation methods
and the same locations. With rare exceptions, vulnerability reduction
has not materialized in the form of appropriate building techniques,
choice of materials or the selection of alternative sources.
- System vulnerability
assessments have advanced a fair amount, particularly after PAHO-generated
methodologies were disseminated. However, mitigation measures have yet
to be implemented as an everyday part of operations, preventive maintenance,
vulnerability remains a key challenge. In general, service providers
have yet to implement adequate information systems. They are still using
CAD systems that, while powerful, dont assist in information management,
and are thus not appropriate for system risk management. It is essential
to improve training in system vulnerability reduction.
- The walls between
the sanitary sector and land-use management specialists have yet to
be torn down.
about Effective Early-Warning Systems (CEPREDENAC, IDNDR, CDERA, Quebec)
There are three important
aspects to bear in mind in relation to Early Warning: first, the technical
and scientific component that enables us to detect a hazard in time and
predict its future behavior; second, appropriate and timely broadcast
of the warning; and third, the understanding of that warning by its recipients.
Conclusions and Challenges
- We conclude that
early warning is a process, not an isolated activity, which includes
organized communities and very diverse specialists working in coordination.
- For early-warning
systems to be effective and timely, communities must participate extensively
at every stage. It is particularly important to strengthen local and
regional institutions involved in disaster management and response.
- Scientific and
technological advances have produced more knowledge of the hazards,
vulnerabilities, and risk scenarios in the region. In the meteorological
field, the improved synchronization in forecasting is notable, thanks
to the use of numeric models, the Internet, and more developed remote
- The timely identification
of potentially aggressive phenomena, and research on their behaviour,
have enabled the creation of better risk maps and the consolidation
of emergency plans and communication systems.
- Presupposing that
knowledge and means are still not sufficiently shared or unavailable
for all communities, this must be assumed as a worldwide responsibility.
- Renewed efforts
and initiatives are required to overcome existing educational and financial
limitations to the development of early warning systems.
- It is necessary
to strengthen scientific research in this area. We must keep moving
forward in the building of an interdisciplinary focus that incorporates
the social sciences.
- It is necessary
to make progress in the dissemination of early warning information that
is timely and appropriate for the user. In this sense, the use of daily
bulletins and web pages, the daily feeding of information to the press,
the production of information material and training activities can all
play a role.
for Organization and Action in the Field of Risk Management in Primary,
Secondary and Higher Education (IDNDR, UCR, OAS)
The elementary and
secondary education sector experienced significant changes in the problems
surrounding prevention and mitigation during the 1990s. Advances include
the great number of courses regarding disaster and risk reduction that
were incorporated into the curricula in several countries of the region.
Some initiatives were launched to reduce the vulnerability of education
facilities, not only due to the characteristics and size of the population
that gathers daily in such facilities, but also because schools and other
such facilities are often the only available shelters for victims of a
The discussions, as
recommended by the Hemispheric Plan for Disaster Reduction in the Education
Sector, dealt with three main issues: the training of teachers, citizen
participation, and educational infrastructure.
- Develop teacher
training and school curricula (at the primary, secondary and higher
level) in accordance with the vulnerabilities of each country, and encourage
research in this field as well as the systematization and dissemination
of available findings.
- Promote a culture
of prevention and risk and disaster reduction by developing a cross-cutting
approach to disaster mitigation in the curriculum, thereby improving
the quality of life of citizens.
- Promote the development
and implementation of emergency response plans in school facilities
throughout the region by involving architects and engineers in assessing
the vulnerability of existing structures and setting criteria for the
construction of new structures, and by training educators to monitor
the conditions of existing facilities and the terrain on which they
are built, with the assistance of specialized government departments
and Disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean Trends and Relevant
Aspects (CRID, IDNDR, PAHO/WHO)
In the past decade,
wide coverage has been achieved by electronic information networks, which
has increased communication among the scientific/technical community,
and with political decision-makers and NGOs involved in natural disaster
To a great extent, the gap between knowledge generation and political
and technical decision-making has been reduced. Nevertheless, the great
challenge is to close the gap between dissemination of disaster-related
knowledge and a sense of appropriation by society.
The conventional models of information-sharing, which start with an institutional
source, have shown themselves to be efficient, but experience demonstrates
that these cannot and must not be the only ones applied when our objective
is to make substantial changes in the publics attitude toward disasters.
- Put into practice
participatory models of social communication in local risk management,
considering the experiences that have been developed in this field.
- Establish systematic
and permanent mechanisms for risk management training aimed at the staff
of community radio stations. This training should be linked to the participatory
design of local risk-management plans.
- Increase efforts
to train journalists from the media establishment so that they have
an adequate understanding of natural phenomena and of information management
in emergency situations.
- Strengthen the
public information programmes of disaster prevention organizations,
with direct links to formal and informal educational activities.
- Integrate new
technologies in a humane and rational manner, without going to extremes
but taking the fullest possible advantage of them.
- Helping more people
to have access to knowledge through the Internet and electronic media
at the service of greater communication for disaster reduction.
- Make disaster
reduction safer and more efficient through the use of these information
and communication tools.
Mechanisms and Instruments for Prevention: Economic Aspects
(ILO, ECLAC, OAS)
the Natural Disaster Fund (FONDEN), a Mexican initiative, and discussed
the issue of how to keep track of the use given to international donations.
They then probed the socioeconomic impact of disasters, presented during
an earlier plenary session, and disaggregated it into direct, indirect
and secondary costs. Participants also discussed the use of cost/benefit
analysis in programming disaster reduction activities.
the Inter-American Development Banks approach to disasters, based
not only on disaster response but also prevention and long-term sustainable
reconstruction, and on encouraging countries to assess their own vulnerability
and integrate this knowledge into their policies and actions. There was
consensus on the key role that banking institutions can play in disaster
reduction, and some discussion of the problems involving loans for risk
Disasters, participants argued, often derail sustainable development policies,
when in fact they should strengthen them. Project fail to incorporate
methodologies for assessing the socioeconomic costs of future rehabilitation
and reconstruction and incorporating them into impact studies. This makes
it hard to factor in the savings involved in not having to rebuild after
an earthquake or other natural event.
- Carry out comprehensive
vulnerability assessments, with the participation of the various stakeholders,
in order to show that prevention is highly cost-effective. Find ways
to reward projects that take prevention into consideration.
- Improve cost-benefit
analysis methodologies to evaluate prevention measures, not just the
socioeconomic impact of disasters, by means of new research initiatives.
- Prove that prevention
reduces the costs of post-disaster investments in rehabilitation and
- Create an insurance
fund for disaster prevention, initially as a pilot project in Central
America, to mitigate the economic consequences of natural disasters
in the region and provide economic incentives for risk reduction and
prevention activities, particularly at the local community level, allowing
Central American municipal governments to insure their assets and infrastructure
against loss, damage or destruction as a result of natural disasters.
Begin by carrying out research to determine the degree of contingent
risks in actuarial terms and therefore the necessary level of capitalization
of such a scheme