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



Disaster Reduction for the Sustainable
Development of Mountain Areas

Whether we live in coastal zones or at higher elevations in the mountain areas, we are all connected to and affected by mountains in many ways. More than half of the world’s population relies on the fresh water that originates from mountains. Mountains are also a major source of energy and other important resources, such as minerals, forest and agricultural products. Mountains harbour some of the world’s richest biological diversity and, as major ecosystems, are essential to the stability of the complex and interrelated ecology of our planet. Mountains are considered barometers of global climate change, because fragile mountain ecosystems are highly sensitive to changes in temperature. In fact, mountain glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate; if current trends continue, it has been estimated that by the end of this century many of the world’s mountain glaciers will have disappeared entirely.

In addition to the diversity of mountain ecosystems, mountains are so called “high energy” environments and therefore they are very vulnerable to natural hazards. In Latin America, there are many sad reminders of the devastating effect that natural hazards can have in the mountain areas, such as the 1970 earthquake in Peru, which killed more than 66.000 people and destroyed the entire town of Huascaran, the 1985 Armero mudflow in Colombia that was triggered by a volcanic eruption and killed more than 21,000 people, or the 1999 mudflows in Venezuela that killed more than 10,000 people. More recent examples include the earthquakes in Peru last year and the devastating floods in La Paz, Bolivia earlier this year.

What makes mountains and mountain people vulnerable to natural hazards?

Several factors, both geological and human, contribute to the high vulnerability of mountain areas, their population as well as their surrounding areas.

First of all, the steep slopes and vertical nature of mountains makes their surface highly unstable and vulnerable to many natural hazards, such as earthquakes, landslides, debris flows, snow avalanches and floods. Volcanic eruptions, as well as glacial lake outburst floods - so called GLOFs - are other common phenomena in mountain areas.

Due to global warming, mountain areas are expected to become even more dangerous, as melting glaciers and glacial runoff accelerate soil erosion and the likelihood and frequency of landslides, floods and avalanches. It has been estimated that another indirect consequence of global warming in mountain regions will be an increasing risk of communicable diseases. According to some scientists, the mosquitoes that carry malaria, dengue and yellow fewer are spreading to higher altitudes as temperatures increase.

Human factors also contribute the vulnerability of mountain regions. Cutting down mountain forests can accelerate erosion and thus increase vulnerability to flash floods, landslides and avalanches. Current migration patterns from rural to urban areas and from the highlands to the lowlands creates high concentrations of populations in valleys, increasing environmental degradation and the vulnerability of the people to large-scale disasters emanating from the mountains. Finally, poverty is a factor that puts people at higher risk, especially when they do not have access to safe housing and safe land.

Why focus on disaster reduction and mountains?

The United Nations proclaimed 2002 as the International Year of Mountains (IYM) to raise international awareness of the global implications of mountain life and its sustainability. The International Year of Mountains represents an important step in the long-term process initiated by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and known as the Earth Summit. One of the major outcomes was Agenda 21, a global blueprint for sustainable development into the 21st century. Agenda 21’s Chapter 13, entitled “Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable Mountain Development”, placed mountains high in the agenda of the global debate on environment and development (

In order to contribute to the International Year of Mountains, the ISDR Secretariat has decided that this year’s World Disaster Reduction Campaign should focus on Disaster Reduction for Sustainable Mountain Development. The first aim of the 2002 Campaign is to increase global awareness of successful disaster reduction efforts in mountain areas so that vulnerable mountain populations can benefit from past experiences. The second aim of the campaign is to raise awareness more generally of disaster reduction so that previous and new solutions aimed at vulnerability- and risk reduction can be shared.

This issue of ISDR Informs is also dedicated to the topic of mountains, and includes several articles on risk reduction in mountain areas. More detailed information on the public awareness campaign can be found on page 5-6 and mountains and disaster reduction on pages 27-41.

Global and regional developments

Disaster reduction, sustainable development and mountains will all be discussed later this year at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD), which will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 26 August - 7 September, ten years after the Earth Summit. Over 50,000 attendees are expected at the Johannesburg Summit, its side events and multi-stakeholder activities.

Although disaster reduction was mentioned in several chapters of Agenda 21, it was not articulated as an imperative for sustainable development. In the current review and Action Programme being negotiated for Johannesburg, inclusion of the topic of disaster reduction is one of the main objectives as requested by governments during the regional consultations and preparatory committee meetings earlier this year in New York and Bali. For more information please turn to page 8-10.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, recent major developments include the Hemispheric Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which took place in San Jose, Costa Rica in December 2001.The conference brought together about 550 experts and professionals from throughout the Americas and focused on prevention and mitigation and their linkages to development. The conference was a concrete first step towards the implementation of the Declaration of Quebec City and Plan of Action adopted at the Third Summit of the Americas (Quebec City, 20-22 April 2001) in which disaster management was listed as one of the region’s strategic priorities and goals in the coming years (turn to page 42 for more information).

We hope you will enjoy this issue. Comments and suggestions are welcome, in particular those that can help us improve this magazine. We would also like to encourage you to send us information on your own experiences and lessons learned regarding disaster reduction so that we could share them with the rest of the region.

For more information, please contact the ISDR Regional Unit for Latin America and the Caribbean ( or visit the following Web sites: