Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Partners in Action
of Caribbean States (ACS)
On 19 and 20 October 2000, the Special Committee on Natural Disasters of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) held its first meeting in San Salvador, El Salvador to discuss a survey of the regions strengths and weaknesses in the field of disaster reduction.
Participants included the coordinators of ACSs member countries and associate member countries disaster reduction focal points. Also in attendance were representatives of multilateral organizations such as the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
One of the reasons for the meeting was to hear the results of the assessment carried out by member states and associate members on disaster reduction weaknesses, strengths and projects undertaken by ACS members. Participants also strove to establish cooperation initiatives.
for the Risk Analysis
The assessment was carried out by means of a survey of the 25 member states, of which 18 responded. The survey, carried out by a consultant with the support of liaison officers from the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) and the Central American Center for Disaster Prevention (CEPREDENAC), was aimed at assessing current risk levels, as well as programs and intergovernmental and subregional mechanisms, in order to set priorities for cooperation in disaster prevention, mitigation and management.
Some 50 existing national projects were identified in the region, as well as four priority areas for cooperation: flood and earthquake risk analysis; training, education, and awareness-raising; early warning systems for floods and swells; and the strengthening of disaster management organizations (DMOs).
These areas reflect common concerns about the hazards that prevail in the Caribbean, as well as strategic concepts such as training and education, institutional capacity building, and operational improvements.
The Consultant, Nicole Williams, emphasized that cooperation activities in these areas should employ regional knowledge and experience, make sure that communities are empowered by the transfer of knowledge and resources during disaster mitigation and recovery activities, and encourage beneficiary countries to contribute financially to these initiatives.
The results of the survey and the way they were presented were hailed by attendees, since it will make it easier to identify areas of cooperation. Participants expressed their satisfaction at the increased possibilities for creating synergy by sharing the knowledge and expertise that already exist in the region.
In addition to the four priority areas, the following issues were identified as of great common interest:
Moreover, two working groups presented the following cooperation initiatives:
The latter project falls within the mandates of the Regional Disaster Information Center (CRID) and the Caribbean Disaster Information Network (CARDIN), which are existing bodies that are helping to carry out the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR).
/ Experience on the expasure
Given the vulnerability of countries in the region to natural disasters and the risks they pose to their development, the ACS has declared that disaster prevention, mitigation, and management are top priorities. In recognition of the relevance of these issues, the Council of Ministers agreed in 1999 to raise the Special Group on Disaster Reduction to the level of Special Committee.
When starting its work in March 2000, the Executive Board of the Special Committee underscored the need to apply a more structured approach to the efforts of the Committee. With this goal in mind, members agreed to commission a survey in order to determine the most pressing issues and common concerns in the region and identify possibilities for synergy and cooperation. The survey would focus on disaster management strengths, weaknesses and projects carried out by ACS Member and Associate Member Countries.
A Technical Group was appointed to this end, comprising the members of the Executive Board and representatives of two subregional natural disaster prevention and mitigation agencies, namely the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) and the Central American Center for Disaster Prevention (CEPREDENAC), as well as the Pan-American Health Organizations Program on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief (PED).
In spite of the length
of the questionnaire and the close deadline, countries response
was encouraging. A total of 20 countries responded to the questionnaire,
including three British protectorates. The findings were officially presented
to the Special Committee during its first meeting, which was held in San
Salvador on 19 and 20 October 2000.
Respondents also addressed
planning and operations, education and awareness raising programs, and
regional disaster management mechanisms. A listing of existing programs
was compiled at the national, sub regional and regional level.
for the development of an early warning system (EWS)
A majority of respondents85%identified hurricanes and floods as the chief hazards faced by their countries. Consequently, tsunamis and landslides are also priority concerns. Forest fires were another top issue.
Since floods were identified as top priorities by all but three of the participating countries, most of them agreed that risk analysis and the development of early warning systems should focus first of all on this type of natural disaster. However, less than a third of participating countries had quantified the frequency of such events.
On the plus side, 55% of the nations at risk from flooding have developed risk maps on this phenomenon. While most countries affected have made some effort to assess their vulnerability to floods, only fourCosta Rica, Belize, Panama, and Antigua and Barbudahave managed to complete these evaluations. The issue is of particular importance to the countries in the region given the frequency of floods in economic growth centers such as cities, agriculturally valuable plains, or coastlines.
Landslides were identified as prevailing hazards by all countries except for the Turk and Caicos Islands. Ten nations described them as a primary hazard. Tsunamis or swells, meanwhile, were declared primary risks by 13 countries, with only Mexico declining to consider them a risk at all.
Only Panama and Trinidad and Tobago deemed storms and hurricanes secondary concerns, and 66% of respondents said that their country has an early warning system for tropical cyclones. Nevertheless, some highly vulnerable countries, such as Grenada and Saint Lucia, confessed that they still do not have a hurricane early warning system.
Although 80% of respondents called forest fires a hazard, less than half considered them a primary concern. Fires were declared a priority by the Central American countries and Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago.
In the field of biological hazards, the overwhelming concern of the countries surveyed was dengue, especially hemorrhaging dengue. Given the potential devastation to their economies and populations, serious consideration should be given to a joint national and regional effort to minimize this hazard. Cholera and other water-borne diseases continue to raise concerns, particularly in Central America, Grenada, Jamaica, and Turks and Caicos Islands.
In addition, issues
of concern include the safety of structures, with 22% highlighting the
need for sound building codes, followed by mitigation (14%), education
(12%), and land use management and zoning codes (also 12%).
Planning and Operations
Most member states have standard operational procedures for most aspects of disaster management. A weak point is post-disaster recovery; only 56% of respondents stated that their countries have established procedures in place.
An overwhelming majority of participating countries said that they were carrying out between 70% and 90% of all components of their education program. However, when assessing the impact of the program, only 35% considered it highly effective, while 30% said it was effective and 25% described it as so-so.
Beyond a doubt, the
most valuable consequence of the survey
Flood and earthquake
In addition, the survey helped to identify some 50 projects underway at the national level.
Special Committee members, when discussing the findings, also agreed that any future cooperation initiatives should be based on the existing knowledge and experience in the region.