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

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The Central American Disaster Health Information Network
John Scott y Stacey Arnesen

The Central American Disaster Health Information Network, created through the partnership of the Centro Regional de Información Sobre Desastres (CRID), the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), is now a successful initiative in two countries. The project began in Honduras and Nicaragua nearly two years ago, and this year El Salvador was added to the “network”. The sites in El Salvador are expected to be operational later this summer, and they will be joining an already dynamic partnership of university-based sites in Nicaragua and Honduras. During a recent visit to Honduras the project team was rewarded with a truly remarkable demonstration of how active and proactive partner sites have been. After receiving training at CRID in Costa Rica and at the U.S. National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, Dr. Cecilia Garcia, director of the medical school library at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH), conducted a training programs for University professors and administrators, representatives of the Ministry of Health, the Secretary of the Presidency, and COPECO, the Honduran national system for the prevention, mitigation and preparedness for emergencies and disasters. The UNAH project website is http://cidbimena.desastres.hn/. The project also served as a catalyst for the modernization of the medical school library and ten additional computers with Internet access were recently installed. Half of the financing came from the University and half came from funds generated by student activity fees. The University could have placed the computers anywhere, since there is a universal need, but chose to place them with our project in the library.

At Honduras’ other partner site, the Central University of the North Region (CURN) there is also dramatic activity. As a result of the enthusiasm of the director, Roberto Matute, and his staff, and because the north region is the most vulnerable to disasters, the mail university campus in Tegucigalpa made the decision to make San Pedro Sula the country’s disaster information center and gave it the name CIDCURN (translated as the Disaster Information Center of the Central University of the North Region). In addition to the ten computers given by the university to the project site in Tegucigalpa, seven more were given to CIDCURN by the University library system. The project web site at CIDCURN is: http://cidcurn.desastres.hn/. Mr. Matute and his staff have also conducted several training programs.

In Nicaragua the two centers participating in the project, Centro de Investigacion y Estudios de la Salud (CIES), at the school of public health of the Autonomous National University of Nicaragua (UNAN), and the Medical School of UNAN in Leon, Nicaragua are active. CIES’s new project web site is now online at: http://desastres.cies.edu.ni, and the Leon site can be found at: http://desastres.unanl.edu.ni/. Further, CIES has agreed to host a project forum and the project’s third major training session that will be organized by CRID for the first week of September. The one-week training seeks to consolidate knowledge obtained in the first two training courses and will focus on acquiring additional capacities in the development of information products, including a disaster thesaurus and full-text databases. Furthermore, attention will be given to promoting skills in social marketing of information products.

To review the purpose of the initiative, in most of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, disaster vulnerability is high due to several factors such as a high risk of natural hazards with disastrous potential (earthquakes, hurricanes, inundations), poor urban planning, destruction of the environment and ecosystems, poverty, lack of a culture of disaster prevention.

The principal goal of the CRID/NLM/PAHO project is to contribute to disaster reduction in the region. This will be achieved through capacity building activities in the area of disaster-related information management. Through participation in the project, target countries will have the required capacities to collect, index, manage, store, disseminate, and share public health and medical information related to disasters. The project strategy is to provide selected information centers in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, with the required knowledge, training and technology resources in order to have sufficient capacities to act as reliable information providers to a host of other users in these countries. In the longer term, the establishment of disaster information centers should also facilitate the development of improved disaster prevention and mitigation policy and planning in participating countries.

This three-year project is executed by FUNDACRID, based in Costa Rica, with funding from the National Library of Medicine and technical support provided by NLM and PAHO. FUNDACRID carries out its activities through the Regional Disaster Information Center (CRID).

The successes of the project described in this brief article could not have been achieved without the expertise of CRID’s staff whose focus is unique in the region. CRID’s mission is to promote the development of a “culture of prevention” in Latin American and Caribbean countries through the compilation and dissemination of disaster related information, by providing educational programs designed to “train the trainers”, and by promoting co operative efforts to improve risk management. Since its creation, CRID has collected important technical information on emergencies and disasters available in Latin America and the Caribbean, and has made great efforts in making this information accessible to thousands of interested users in the Region. . In turn, the critical role that CRID plays would not be possible without the significant contribution, both financial and in substance, of PAHO’s Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Coordination Program (www.paho.org/disasters/), and the United Nations Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), the focal point within the UN system for the co-ordination of strategies and activities for disaster reduction (www.eird.org/homeing.htm).

About the authors:

John Scott is president of the Center for Public Service Communications in Arlington, Virginia, USA. Acting as consultant to NLM, he is responsible for coordinating the implementation of the project.

Stacey Arnesen is the Project Manager at the National Library of Medicine’s Division of Specialized Information Services.

For additional information contact:

  • David Zervaas, Regional Disaster Information Center for Latin America and the Caribbean (CRID), Apdo. 3745-1000 San Jose, Costa Rica. Tel: (506) 296-3952, Fax: (506) 231-5973, Email: crid@crid.or.cr, www.crid.or.cr
  • Stacey Arnesen, Project Manager, National Library of Medicine, Division of Specialized Information Services, Bethesda, Maryland 20894, ARNESES@mail.nlm.nih.gov

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