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

Global ISDR


United Nations Sasakawa Award 2000
Colombia: Reconstruction of the Coffee Belt
A New Model Of Land Use Management Brings New Life To A Region

On 11 October 2000, World Disaster Reduction Day, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, the United Nations presented its Sasakawa to representatives of Colombia’s Fund for the Reconstruction and Social Development of the Coffee Belt (Fondo para la Reconstrucción y Desarrollo Social del Eje Cafetero, FOREC), for its outstanding contribution not only to the rehabilitation of the earthquake-devastated area but to the building of a truly sustainable and socially equitable development model.1

“The long-term character of your activities, as well as the numerous prevention elements that you have integrated into your reconstruction activities, such as land use plans, risk and hazard zoning, and the environmental plan, among others, explain the selection of FOREC for this year’s award, said Denis M. Benn, Director a.i. of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), in a letter sent earlier to FOREC’s Executive Director.

Rubens Ricupero, Secretary General of the United Nations Trade and Development Organization (UNCTAD) and United Nations Director for Europe (second right), presents FOREC Executive Director Everardo Murillo Sánchez (right) with the United Nations Sasakawa Award for Disaster prevention at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, on 11 October 2000.

The Two Earthquakes

On 25 January 1999, two earthquakes shook an area of approximately 6,800 Km2 in the Colombian Midwest, an area known as the Coffee Belt (Eje Cafetalero) because of the large number and excellence of the coffee plantations in the region. The main event took place at 13:19 (1819 GMT) at an approximate depth of 10-15 Km. Its magnitude was 6.2 on the Richter Scale. At 17:40 (2240GMT), a quake of 5.8 followed, its epicenter somewhat more to the South (4.39° North).

The Coffee Belt is directly influenced by local and regional tectonics. The subduction zone between the Nazca and South American Plates, as well as the Cauca-Romeral fault megasystem, are frequent causes of seismic events in this part of Colombia.

The Coffee Belt Region

This region spans some 50 municipalities belonging to
the departments (provinces or states) of Caldas, Risaralda, Quindio, the Cauca Valley (Northern region) and Tolima (Western Region). It is highly dynamic, both economically and socially. After the end of the coffee boom, the region has managed to diversify its productive activities, generating great opportunities for development both within the country and in its links with overseas.

Of the 50 municipalities in the region, 28 were in need of reconstruction after the quakes. Some 1.5 million people lived there in 1998.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimated the damage in rural areas at US$10 million, of which 65% took place in coffee-growing areas(Eje Cafetero. Santafé de Bogotá, 1999).

The cost of reconstruction was initially estimated at US$1.7 billion, twice the earnings produced by Colombian cut flower exports a year, or close to two thirds of total Colombian coffee exports in 1998. The economic devastation caused by the disaster led to a prompt response by the national government, the mobilization and solidarity of the entire Colombian nation, and an inrush of international assistance.

Seismic Impact

Emergency and Reconstruction Measures

In order to facilitate the urgent care of the affected population, the Colombian government declared a state of national economic, social, and environmental emergency in its Decree 182 of 1999.

Although Colombia does have disaster prevention and response legislation, the magnitude of the impact of this catastrophe required additional measures not contemplated by existing laws. The experience provided the impetus for the legislation to be reviewed and amended to respond more effectively to these kinds of phenomena.

Legal framework for the reconstruction of the coffee belt

The Organizational And Social Model For Emergency Response And Reconstruction

The FOREC model is based on the following variables: legal instruments, resource management, administration, technical support, control, monitoring, evaluation, funding, a general intervention mechanism, and a basic planning and management mechanism.

The novelty of this approach is the application of a public management model for disaster reconstruction in which the State hands over the management of reconstruction contracts to NGOs for the rehabilitation of the affected areas. This ensures that the planning process is highly participatory and the transfer of various technologies from the various levels of government to civil society plays a key role. The environmental recovery plan, for instance, was developed through an agreement between FOREC, the Ministry of the Environment, and the five Autonomous Corporations (local governments) of the region.

By working in this way, social intervention technology is transferred, as are skills in the building of physical infrastructure. The establishment of new partnerships strengthens civil society. New and significant NGOs arise. In general, the quantitative and qualitative growth of social capital is promoted. NGOs are empowered by having to meet their ethical, operational and administrative responsibilities, and the concerted efforts by the municipal governments and FOREC to build public infrastructure helps strengthen both civil society and democracy.

This has been the first time that the Colombian government has come to an agreement with civil society organizations to carry out such an ambitious project, nothing less than the physical, social, political and cultural reconstruction of a significant region of the country, at a cost of close to US$740 million.

The execution of the Reconstruction Program is based on territorial decentralization, by assigning clear roles to the national and local governments based on their constitutional responsibilities but also their core competencies. The national government acts as facilitator, providing resources and various forms of support. The local and departmental governments engage in planning, control, and evaluation. In territorial terms, the Program is executed in the 32 affected zones, 31 urban and one rural, which were identified by local governments, the civil population, and FOREC. Each zone has its own Zonal Management Office, in charge of an NGO, which prepared and was asked to execute a Zonal Action Plan (ZAP).

Management Model

  • Establishment of FOREC with a short-term, small, horizontal administrative structure
  • Integration with national policies
  • Zoning of the region for plan and project execution
  • Design of Zonal Action Plans
  • Hazard and vulnerability assessments
  • Community participation in decision making
  • Working in concert with local authorities
  • Operational procedures agreed upon with multilateral banks
  • Internal and external controls
  • Monitoring and follow-up by university network

Strategic Planning For Reconstruction

Each of the reconstruction stages involved careful planning, involving in each case the most appropriate actions for that particular stage, but always in view of ensuring the sustainability of the process even without up-close supervision from FOREC.

During the initial, emergency phase, planning and action were necessarily almost a single process, and success depended in great measure on local creativity and leadership. Since the region had been affected in the past by other earthquakes, the local and regional disaster prevention and response systems were better prepared to face the new events. Even so, the magnitude of the disaster was such that local capabilities proved to be insufficient, and national and even international support soon had to be integrated into the overall relief and reconstruction effort.

A national state of emergency was declared, and immediate care was provided to the affected population, including rescue and evacuation efforts, emergency food and medical assistance, resettlement of those whose houses had been destroyed or rendered unsafe, as well as the provision of security and police services to prevent looting and the reception and coordinated management of emergency donations from other parts of Colombia and the international community.

The second stage focused on consolidation and planning. The collection of data on the number of victims and the damage to infrastructure and property, the disposal of rubble, and the building and management of shelters, was accompanied by risk and hazard assessments, socioeconomic evaluations of affected communities, the identification of leaders, and meetings with community representatives and local authorities to set priorities for reconstruction. Other elements included zoning, the identification of the key NGOs in each zone, the development of Zonal Action Plans, resource procurement, and interinstitutional coordination. Psychological post-trauma care was also provided to the victims.

The third phase was the reconstruction stage. It involved the allocation and disbursement of subsidies, as well as the restoration of public services through the repair or reconstruction of public facilities, the power grid, water and sewage systems, and the road system. Housing and resettlement were priorities at this stage, but so was the protection of natural resources and the environment.

The final stage, still ongoing and in a sense permanent, was the prevention and sustainability phase. It involved more detailed vulnerability and risk assessments, the development of emergency plans, the formulation of protocols for each type of event, the installation of an early warning system, the provision of equipment for disaster response, and the training provided by the members of the National Disaster prevention and Response System. But it also included community education, awareness raising and organization, the promotion of a culture of prevention, and the participatory definition of a social and economic development model that will reduce the impact of natural disasters in the future.

For more information please contact:
Everardo Murillo Sánchez
Armenia, Colombia, Tel (576) 744-2474