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


Workshop on United Nations Support for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance in Central America
San Jose, Costa Rica, 29 31 May 2002


Representatives of Ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs and national offices in charge of disaster response in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, together with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Coordination Centre for the Prevention of Natural Disasters in Central America (CEPREDENAC), met in San José, Costa Rica, from 29 to 31 May 2002. The aim of the workshop was to consider how to optimize support from the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team for the countries of the region in the coordination of humanitarian assistance.

During the workshop, the participants recognized the progress achieved in the region towards the establishment of appropriate institutions and legal frameworks for the management of emergencies, as well as the existence of dynamic processes of integration and solid regional institutions, such as CEPREDENAC, for the management of disaster situations.

The workshop was highly positive and benefited from a high degree of active participation.


The following main topics were discussed during the event:


  1. The UNDAC Team may be mobilized following:

(a) A request from the United Nations Resident Coordinator, in close communication with the Government, to provide support to the United Nations Disaster Management Team (UNDMT); and
(b) A request from the Government of the affected country, through the Resident Coordinator, to provide support to UNDMT and the Government itself.

GE.02-01587 (E) 280602 280602

  1. It was noted that the most important factor delaying mobilization is the process of consultation on and approval of the mission. This delay negatively affects the capacity of the Government to mobilize international resources. Accordingly, it was recommended that the national mechanisms for requesting the timely mobilization of the UNDAC Team should be reviewed and made more flexible.
  2. It was recommended that the minimum size of an UNDAC mission should be six people, so that it can address issues related to humanitarian assistance in a comprehensive manner, in accordance with its terms of reference. Sectorial aspects will be coordinated through the specialized agencies of the United Nations, as is the case with PAHO in the health sector. The UNDAC Team should be augmented by including representatives of the United Nations system, humanitarian NGOs, the Red Cross and donors.

Support for the coordination of international humanitarian assistance

  1. The participants recognized the additional input that the UNDAC Team can provide to support national efforts in the coordination of international humanitarian assistance, the identification of priority needs and support for the management of information with the aim of responding to the humanitarian needs of the affected population.
  2. The workshop identified the need for the UNDAC Team to have previous knowledge of the institutions, regulations, administrative, political, socio economic and cultural context and existing capacities in the different countries of the region.
  3. It was recommended that the UNDAC Team maintain a close relationship with the National Emergency Management Agency (COE) through the establishment of a permanent presence, which should be facilitated by the national authorities. To this end, a focal point for the UNDAC Team should be nominated within the national structure to ensure disaster preparedness.
  4. The workshop determined that the UNDAC Team should work within the framework of the Coordination Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (CCAH), in accordance with the procedures laid down in the Regional Manual on Procedures for Ministries of Foreign Affairs in Disaster Situations.
  5. The workshop highlighted the additional input that the UNDAC Team can bring when integrated into the national institutional structure for disaster management, thereby contributing to its technical strengthening vis à vis the national policy making bodies and its credibility vis à vis the international community.
  6. It was recommended that OCHA should give priority to the participation of officers of national disaster management institutions, and particularly members of the national COE, in the UNDAC Team, to support national capacity-building efforts.
  7. The workshop underlined the role of the UNDAC Team in supporting and advising the United Nations in country team (UNDMT) in the coordination of response activities of the organizations of the United Nations system and the international community in the country. At sectorial level, the specialized agencies of the United Nations should sustain the collaboration and increase its technical cooperation with its respective national counterparts.
  8. The workshop also stressed the need for the organizations comprising UNDMT to be involved in the contingency planning processes initiated by the respective countries and should channel information to OCHA about national and regional instruments established by the Central American Integration System (SICA), through CEPREDENAC, in order to direct and facilitate humanitarian assistance to the region.
  9. It was recommended that members of UNDMT should be trained by OCHA in the UNDAC methodology.
  10. In the event of an earthquake, it was recommended that Governments should facilitate the immediate activation of the UNDAC Team with the aim of supporting each country in the reception and operation of the international teams specialized in urban search and rescue, in accordance with the protocols of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG).

Information management

  1. The importance of an independent analysis of the information on needs assessment made available to the international community was recognized.
  2. It was recommended that the UNDAC Team should reinforce the national process of interpreting, analysing and validating information in disaster situations, while at the same time maintaining the advantage of its objectivity and impartiality as an external actor.
  3. The following channels of information dissemination were identified: Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the official web sites of the country concerned, SICA, CEPREDENAC and those of OCHA and other organizations of the United Nations system.
  4. It was recommended that UNDAC and the national COE of the affected country should check the information made available to the international community to ensure its consistency.

Coordination of the process of damage evaluation and
needs assessment (EDAN) and its standardization

  1. The responsibility of the affected country for completing, as a matter of priority in the event of disasters, the process of damage evaluation and needs assessment (EDAN) was underlined.
  2. It was recommended that international multilateral and bilateral humanitarian agencies and NGOs should harmonize the content of their capacity building programmes and standardize the methodology for damage evaluation and needs assessment (EDAN) in close cooperation with CEPREDENAC and national structures.
  3. It was recognized that the evaluation process should be duly coordinated among the various actors, and the primary responsibility of the Government for ensuring its execution was highlighted.

Dissemination of the UNDAC concept

  1. It was recommended that OCHA should endeavour to disseminate the UNDAC concept in the various countries. For its part, the office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator should be proactive in promoting the UNDAC system with the competent authorities of the country.
  2. The participants underlined the need for OCHA to be more actively involved in response preparedness activities.