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



By Denis Benn1 ,
Director a.i. of the Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction

I am pleased to use this medium to bring to the attention of our readers the challenges presented by the significant increase in the incidence of disasters in recent years. The impact of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, forest fires and volcanic eruptions which have occurred in many parts of the world, including the Latin American and Caribbean region, has exacted a heavy toll in human lives, and in the destruction of economic and social infrastructure. Hydro-meteorological effects of recurring episodes of El Niño and La Niña threaten further problems in the future. Indeed, the growing intensity and severity of these disasters pose a serious threat to the planet and therefore need to be addressed by the international community with an increasing sense of urgency.

While disasters cannot as yet be completely avoided, human action has contributed significantly to the vulnerability of countries. Increasing population growth, changing demographic patterns, increasing and widespread poverty have forced large numbers of people to live in unstable geographical environments, thus increasing their vulnerability to natural hazards and related environmental and technological disasters.

It was this recognition that led the international community to launch the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (1990-1999), which served to increase awareness of the importance of disaster reduction. The experience of the Decade contributed to a significant conceptual shift from an emphasis on disaster response to disaster reduction. This shift was influenced by the recognition that vulnerability to hazards is not only increased by human action but that human creativity and the application of science and technology can play a major role in disaster reduction. This is based, for example, on modern forecasting techniques, which can serve as the basis for the development of early warning systems.

Following the conclusion of the Decade, the UN General Assembly decided to establish an Inter-Agency Task Force and an Inter-Agency Secretariat as the two of the main instruments for advancing the objectives of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction which is based on the Yokohama Strategy (1994) and the Strategy for a Safer World in the 21st Century: Disaster and Risk Reduction adopted at the IDNDR Programme Forum in July 1999.
To date the Task Force has held two meetings (April and October 2000) at which it took a number of important decisions on the ways in which to advance the objectives of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. For its part, the Secretariat, which serves, inter alia, as the focal point within the UN system for the co-ordination of strategies and programmes for natural disaster reduction, also ensures synergy between disaster reduction strategies and those in the socio-economic and humanitarian fields, has been engaged in the formulation of a Programme of Action which seeks to elaborate the conceptual underpinnings of the Strategy. It has also begun the process of formulating a Strategic Plan for 2001, delineating the activities to be pursued by the Secretariat in furtherance of the objectives of the Strategy. Apart from strengthening its links with National Platforms for the implementation of the Strategy, one of the issues that the Secretariat will address is the need to extend its outreach to other regions, based on the Latin America and Caribbean experience.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend the ISDR Latin America and Caribbean Office, which has worked closely with PAHO/WHO, for its contribution to increased disaster awareness in the region. I am also pleased to be asked to convey this message through this publication, which has indeed served as a key instrument in promoting such awareness.

Let us therefore commit ourselves to the goal of reducing human, economic and social losses by creating disaster resilient societies through the propagation of the message of disaster reduction.

1 Denis Martin Benn is Director a.i. of the Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in Geneva, Switzerland. He is Michael Manley Professor of Public Affairs and Public Policy at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica.  After heading the Economic Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of his country, Guyana, Dr Benn joined the United Nations Development Programme. At UNDP, he served as Chief of the Caribbean Division in New York, Resident Representative in Jamaica and as Interim Director of the UNDP Somalia Office. Dr Benn’s last assignment with UNDP was that of Director of the Special Unit for Technical Co-operation among Developing Countries.  He is the author of several books and numerous articles on structural adjustment, globalization, South-South co-operation, international development policy and the role of technical co-operation in the development process.