International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Issue: 13/2006- 12/2006 - 11/2005 - 10/2005 - 9/2004 - 8/2003 - 7/2003 - 6/2002 - 5/2002 - 4/2001- 3/2001

In the Spotlight: The Role of the University

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Central American Program for Human
Resource Development in Seismology

Over the past eight years, with funding from the Research Cooperation Sectorial Department of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SAREC/SIDA), the Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica’s National University (OVSICORI) has been developing human resources in seismology from all over the subregion, as part of the project called Seismotectonic Regionalization of Central America (SERCA). This project was launched in 1992, and its objective has been to develop human resources at the postgraduate level and generate new knowledge through research funding. Approximately 60% of the financial resources assigned to the project have been dedicated to training Central American students at the universities of Uppsala in Sweden and Bergen in Norway. Another 36% has been invested in Central America in the organization of annual workshops, master’s degrees, short courses, and the funding of research projects.

Before the start of the SERCA project, Central America had very few postgraduate specialists in seismology. An inventory of them in 1992 and today shows the following distribution:

COUNTRY

1992

2000

Guatemala

1

3

Honduras

2

4

El Salvador

1

1

Nicaragua

2

1

Costa Rica

3

4

Panama

2

1

Totals

10

14


The table above shows the impact of the SERCA project in the subregion, but especially in particular cases such as Guatemala. Fully 100% of the 1992-2000 class will be graduated by the end of this year, when the project will be over. However, the most important achievement has been the fact that the new professionals have returned to their work places in their respective countries, where their expertise is having a multiplying effect.

The following table shows the distribution of the new professionals by academic degree by country.

COUNTRY

MASTERíS

DOCTORATE

Guatemala

1

2

Honduras

2

2

El Salvador

1

0

Nicaragua

0

1

Costa Rica

3

1

Panama

1

0

Totals

8

6

Among the selection criteria for the 14 scholarships provided, one was that the aspirants work in one of the regional or national institutions involved in research or training in the field of seismology, such as state or private universities, or research centers that specialize in Earth sciences. Another criterion was the candidates’ performance in one of the two regional Masters’ courses that were taught, the first in Costa Rica, from October 1992 to March 1993 at the National University, and the second one in Guatemala, from October 1994 to March 1995, at the Del Valle University. Both courses were based on the nucleus of subjects used by the universities of Uppsala and Bergen for their regular Masters’ programs, and were taught in English. They consisted of Time Series Analysis, Generation of Seismic Waves, Propagation of Seismic Waves, Statistical Seismology, Seismotectonics of Central America, and Engineering Seismology.

Aside from striving for balance in the countries represented, it was the students with the best grade averages who were offered the scholarships to continue their studies at one of the two Scandinavian universities, with the sole exception of the Nicaraguan beneficiary, who conducted his doctoral studies at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

One of the key components of the SERCA project was the funding assigned to research projects proposed by the participants of the annual workshops, which were carried out between 1994 and 2000 and distributed regionally in the following fashion:

WORKSHOP

COUNTRY

DATE

I

Costa Rica

1994 May

II

Guatemala

1995 March

III

Panama

1996 April

IV

Guatemala

1997 March

V

Nicaragua

1998 March

VI

Honduras

1999 March

VII

El Salvador

2000 March

At the beginning of each workshop, applications for project funding were accepted. To the extent possible, the projects were expected to promote regional cooperation so as to forge links of friendship and mutual assistance among the scientists, laying the groundwork for an informal network that might prove invaluable should a major earthquake strike Central America. The proposals were evaluated by the Scientific Committee, which included researchers from the subregion as well as the regional coordinator and the Swedish scientific coordinator. To date, a total of 14 research projects have been funded, for a total of close to US$94,000.

In addition to the Masters’ courses taught in Costa Rica and Guatemala, a specialized course on Seismic Hazards and Risk Analysis: A Streamlined Vision, was taught between 15 and 29 November 1998 in Costa Rica. A second course is programmed for Guatemala in November 2000, with a focus similar to the first, although this time the emphasis will lie on seismic hazard evaluation and risk analysis for the capitals and major cities in Central America. This will be the last academic activity the project will carry out in the subregion.

As a result of the project, in addition to training 14 professionals in seismology (eight Masters’ and six doctorates), the intellectual production generated by SERCA is impressive. Including the postgraduate theses, some 34 research papers have been published, many of them in international journals.

At present, a new funding proposal is being prepared for submission to SAREC/SIDA to establish in Central America a postgraduate school that would focus on natural disaster mitigation with emphasis on natural environmental hazards. On 15 and 16 May 2000, a Central American workshop was held in Costa Rica where representatives of the academic community were informed of this proposal, so that they could discuss it, provide feedback, and approve it. If all of the various agencies and academic departments ratify it, the regional postgraduate program could begin to function in the year 2001, with the involvement of many Central American universities.

For more information on the SERCA
project and its results, please contact:

Dr. Federico Güendel
Coordinador Regional
OVSICORI-UNA
Apdo. 86-3000
Heredia, Costa Rica
fguendel@una.ac.cr

Dr. Ota Kulhánek
Scientific Coordinator
Seismology, Uppsala University
Villavägen 16 752-36
Uppsala, Sweden
ota.kulhanek@seismo.uu.se


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