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


Challenges and Achievements of the Swiss Programme for Disaster Prevention in Central America

Through its Natural Disaster Prevention in Central America (PREVAC) programme, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been contributing since 1999 to the development of a culture of prevention in the three countries in the subregion that are considered the most vulnerable: El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The comprehensive nature of the programme has not only made it possible for synergies to emerge among the various projects, it has also revealed the key challenges confronting efficient risk management in the various intervention fields, namely:

  • Education and training
    • For them to be useful, the methodologies that are taught must be adapted to local realities. Locally relevant factors must be taken into account, such as unavailability of data.
    • When attempting to raise local professionals to international levels of knowledge and expertise, in many cases the local baseline skills do not meet international standards. Hence the demands on the students must also be adjusted.
  • Institutional strengthening and good practices
    • Frequently, there is an institutional lack of clarity about many key issues, including basic concepts (“vulnerability reduction”, “risk management”), the organization required for risk and disaster management (formal and informal national systems, specialized bodies, the optimum degree of decentralization), and the priority that should be assigned to various issues, such as technical vs. social approaches. This lack of clarity hinders the assignment of responsibilities and the development of strategic approaches among participating institutions.
    • In public institutions, salaries are unattractive. This, together with the impact of electoral processes on government personnel, leads to a frequent turnover in staff.
  • Awareness-raising and implementation of risk management instruments and procedures at the local level
    • The main weakness in this field is the general ineffectiveness of local governments, due to a lack of real power (since central institutions impose their will and objectives), poor competence in municipal management, and a lack of resources, particularly financial resources.

Let us now turn to some of the programme’s projects, indicating how these challenges have been confronted.

The Central American Mastersí Degree in Disaster Prevention and Risk Management

The purpose of this MSc programme is to contribute to the sustainable development of Central American nations through a reduction of vulnerability to natural phenomena by means of high-level local-capacity building in risk prevention and management.

The Masters’ programme is a joint effort by SDC and the Center for Geoscientific Research (CIGEO) of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) at Managua. Final preparations are underway and preliminary registration is now starting. The goal is to expand the programme through strategic alliances, both academic and financial, at the national, regional and international level.

The curriculum has been designed for a broad target audience: scientists, decision-makers, health and environment professionals and others. The complete cycle will last two years and includes two specializations. (See Table.)

Support for the Executive Secretariat of the National Disaster Reduction System

Support has been provided to the Executive Secretariat of the recently established Nicaraguan National Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Response System (SNPMAD) through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Publications by the SNPMAD Executive Secretariat for raising awareness at the municipal level

These efforts have produced the following results:

  • The System now has an education and training component that is currently selecting its tasks, assigning priorities and developing a training strategy.
  • Significant training has already been provided at the municipal level on risk management, risk mapping and assessment, the new National System and the role of disaster reduction in local development.

Detail of a risk map aimed at improved land use management (ALARN Project, Nicaragua)

Support for Municipal Governments, Nicaragua

The Local Support for Natural Hazards Assessment and Management (ALARN) project, the oldest part of the PREVAC programme, has to date enables 28 Nicaraguan municipalities in high-risk areas to develop risk assessments and local disaster reduction plans. Hazard maps at a scale of 1:50,000 have been produced, as well as disaster reduction plan summary cards for high-risk locations and the municipalities as a whole, including proposals for risk-reduction measures and zoning proposals for improved land use management.

Eample of a Municipal Disaster Reduction Plan Summary Card

Local-level efforts have been carried out by Nicaraguan professionals who received eminently practical training during the first stage of the project. Some 60 nationals have received this training. A large number of national government institutions and NGOs have participated in the work since then. (See ISDR Informs June 2001 issue.)

However, not all participating municipalities have taken full advantage to date of the tools provided to integrate them into successful municipal management. Additional support will be provided to help them achieve this goal.

Nicaraguan municipalities involved in the ALARN project

For more information please contact:
SDC Team -
Masters’ Programme -