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

Partners in Action


Association of Caribbean States (ACS)
Assessment of ACS countries’ disaster management projects,
weaknesses and strengths
First meeting of the Special Committee on Natural Disasters

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 region’s strengths and weaknesses in the field of disaster reduction.

Participants included the coordinators of ACS’s 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.

Priorities 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:

  • The need for community participation
  • The importance of a political commitment to disaster management

Moreover, two working groups presented the following cooperation initiatives:

  • Establishment of national early warning and seismic vulnerability detection systems. Each member country would have an early warning system based on seismic and hydro-meteorological risk analysis in order to reduce loss of life and property.
  • Gathering of activity references and documents related to the four priority areas. The goal is to take advantage of existing disaster information centers to compile background and other information related to the ACS disaster prevention priority areas, and ensure that this information is available to all agencies in the subregion and can be included in their Web sites.

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).

Perception / Experience on the expasure
to risk in the Caribbean region

The Special Committee reviewed both groups’ cooperation proposals and came to the following agreements, which will be presented to the ACS Council of Ministers:

  • The results of the survey set the necessary priorities for cooperation among ACS member states.
  • The proposals made by both groups need to be refined. This task should fall to the Committee’s Technical Group, which must draft the Terms of Reference for any kind of proposal that requires the mobilization of resources.
  • The ACS Secretariat should play a more active role in this field.
  • The final proposals must become a part of the ACS Work Program for Disaster Management, a draft of which will be produced for consideration by the Council of Ministers.
  • In order to facilitate the continuation of the work initiated by the Special Committee working groups, the Committee recommended that both groups be made permanent.
  • The ACS General Secretariat will serve as facilitator for the development and preparation of a list of activities, projects and documents related to the four priority areas, as well as any other complementary areas that may emerge from the ACS Regional Mechanism For Natural Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Preparedness, within the guidelines already established by the ACS.
  • As part of the enhancement of this Mechanism, efforts must be made to secure the support of the ISDR Secretariat in procuring funds for this initiative.

Survey: Disaster Management Strengths, Weaknesses and Projects in ACS countries

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 Organization’s 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.

With a response rate of 61%, the survey provides a good foundation for determining the real needs and concerns of member states in the field of disaster reduction, including the development of early warning systems and risk assessments involving earthquakes, floods, storms and hurricanes, landslides, forest fires, and biological hazards.

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.
The following is a summary of the main findings.

Priorities for the development of an early warning system (EWS)


A majority of respondents—85%—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 four—Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, and Antigua and Barbuda—have 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
was the growth in mutual knowledge by member states and the identification of productive areas for cooperation. Four main areas for regional cooperation were identified, to wit:

• Flood and earthquake risk analysis.
• Flooding and tsunami early warning systems.
• Training, education and awareness raising programs.
• Strengthening disaster management agencies.

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.

For more information please contact:
Mario F. Estrada, Director
Association of Caribbean States (ACS)
Tel. +1-868 623-2783