Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
In the Spotlight: Moutain Areas
Andean Mountain Communities for Disaster Reduction: A New Challenge
As in the case in many other countries in the region, Perus experience of adverse natural phenomena detonating into full-blown disasters has taught local disaster managers and decision-makers that efforts to ensure the sustainability of rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts are doomed to failure without the participation of the affected communities, rural or urban.
In an urban environment, disaster reduction aimed at sustainable development, though difficult, can still be managed. In rural areas, particularly among the communities that live high up on the Andes, the challenges are much greater.
Emergency situations generally prompt the local community to quickly link with local health services, providing the first line of response in the aftermath of a disaster. While this is also true in the high Andean areas, additional obstacles need to be overcome, having to do with language, lifestyle, myths, the socioeconomic situation, and existing social organizations.
Language Most of the people in these areas speak various dialects of Quechua or Aymará. This means that even the presence of an interpreter is not always a safeguard, since dialects of the same language can vary greatly and cover a relatively circumscribed geographical area.
Lifestyle Many Andean communities, deeply conservative, retain their ancestral ways of life. This can be seen from their eating habits, dress, every-day work, religious practices, celebrations and entertainment. Such traditions should be preserved, and are, but in extremely adverse circumstances that detract from the communities ability to respond to additional challenges such as disasters and emergencies.
Myths and Beliefs While many of the beliefs of Andean mountain dwellers show a remarkable awareness of the need for a balanced relationship with nature and respect for the environment, several of the myths involving supernatural beings and processes can lead to fatalism or the belief that disaster reduction requires atonement or ritual, rather than preventive measures.
Geographical Location The geomorphology of most of these villages greatly affects prompt access when response is urgently needed. Some of these communities live at altitudes of up to 4,100 meters above sea level. Many are sited in high-risk areas prone to earthquakes, landslides, floods, drought and volcanic eruptions.
Socioeconomic Conditions Most Andean mountain communities manage to survive exclusively from subsistence farming or the selling of modest crops. Poverty is a well-known indicator of the likelihood of natural phenomena having a significant impact.
Existing Social Organization Most communities do benefit from traditional grassroots structures that can help them to cope with emergencieswithout exempting them from the other challenges mentioned above. However, due to the lingering disruptions imposed by colonialism and discrimination, a significant number of communities lack even such basic organizational structures.
In spite of these challenges, the Andean mountain people are keenly aware of the need to curb disasters and promote their own development. But it would be foolhardy to engage them as if their cultural matrix were entirely Western-oriented, when their own cultures have existed far longer than the half millennium that Europeans have ruled over their native lands.
Intervention strategies must adopt a new approach. Respect and sensitivity towards the customs and traditions of each community must be shown, so that prevention measures are not seen as the patronizing imposition of new rules of conduct by a postcolonial elite.
The following steps are considered essential to achieving this goal:
Based on the considerations above, the need should be apparent for the establishment of Local Sustainable Development Networks that integrate socioeconomic, environmental and risk-reduction goals. The following are some of the actions that might be undertaken to encourage and nurture such networks.