Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Disaster in the Region
In El Salvador, according to records going back to 1926, droughts have increased in frequency over the past decade. At present, their most significant impact is on the energy and productive sectors, affecting mostly small farmers already in a condition of extreme poverty.
The most severe damage
due to drought took place in 1997 and 2000. In 2001, the Ministry of Agriculture
and Animal Husbandry (MAG) has launched a mass-media campaign to explain
the measures that will be taken in response to the drought that is affecting
several parts of the country and, indeed, the region. National institutions
such as the Agrarian Reform Confederation (CONFRAS) and the Chamber of
Agriculture (CAMAGRO), and international agencies such as the Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), are
monitoring the situation. Even though the executive branch of government
has so far issued only a yellow alert, the legislative branch decreed
a national state of emergency on 10 August.
Given these facts, it is imperative to increase national capacity to confront droughts, not only by responding to the effects, but by developing a Drought Risk Management Planone that contains prevention, mitigation, and response strategies.
Droughts are the natural disasters that have the biggest economic impact and can affect the largest number of people. Earthquakes and cyclones may have great physical intensity, but they are short-lasted and their geographical impact is limited; moreover, the number of fatalities they cause is only large if they hit densely populated areas. By contrast, droughts affect large extensions of land, sometimes entire countries or even continental regions. They may last several months, even years. Invariably, moreover, they have a direct and significant impact on food production and the economy in general.
As is the case of most natural disasters, drought has not traditionally been a priority of policymakers. The negative effects of droughts are mostly handled through contingency measures such as price controls or the grain imports. Their occurrence is not seen as structural; accordingly, they are not contemplated when designing development plans.
Even research on macroeconomic stability or the problems faced by the peasant economy tends to underestimate the significance, to the subsistence dynamics of the farming sector, of losses caused by drought. Instead, it focuses primarily on aspects such as inadequate technical assistance, lack of credit, low prices, the need food assistance, or the impact of food imports.
In recent decades,
environmental degradation has accelerated, increasing the vulnerability
of the population to natural phenomena such as droughts or floods. The
degradation of natural resources and the environment is of global dimensionsand
has global implications.
El Niño, a warming of Southern Pacific surface sea waters that causes various meteorological and oceanic phenomena, is blamed for the increase in natural disasters such as floods, droughts, landslides, and forest fires. But the growing severity of El Niño itself is attributed to the thinning of the stratospheric ozone layer due to CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances, which increases the level of ultraviolet solar radiation that reaches the earths surface, including that of its oceans.
Other forms of man-made pollution, such the emission of so-called greenhouse gases, are likewise contributing to climate change, which threatens to aggravate the frequency and severity of disasters worldwide.
An Operational Definition of Drought
Drought can be operationally defined as a significant temporary reduction in available water and humidity that is below the normal or expected amount for any given period. The essential components of such a definition are the following:
The way this norm
is defined is highly important. The final two components in the list above,
therefore, require some amplification.
The following factors may increase or reduce the vulnerability of farmers and farming to the effects of a drought.
The typical effects of a drought include the following:
The inability of certain
sectors of the population to pay high food prices may result in the following
Recommendations for preventing and mitigating droughts can be divided into those of a macro nature, involving government policies, and those of a micro nature, meant to modify the ecological conditions and farming practices of the areas affected. Many of these must necessarily be carried out by government at its various levels, but others may be a part of the strategies of international cooperation agencies.
The following are
measures to mitigate the effects of a drought, provide emergency relief,
or guarantee food security.
The following are long-term prevention and mitigation measures.
For more information,