Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Disasters in the Region
An Assessment of the Drought that Hit
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD) carried out an assessment of the drought that hit the Isthmus in 2001, as requested by the Central American authorities. The following is a summary of this assessment, based on the figures compiled during a field trip and their analysis based on an internationally accepted assessment methodology.1 An estimate is produced of the damage and losses caused by the drought as well as those sectors and geographical areas that were most affected. Finally, a proposal for future action is presented.
May and August 2001, an abnormal hydrometeorological phenomenon hit Central
America, causing precipitation levels to drop well below historic averages
and severely affecting both the population as a whole and the production
and provision of sometimes vital goods and services.
The drought affected the Central American population in different ways and to varying degrees.
The total number of people affected in one way or another by the drought was estimated at 23.6 million, or 70% of the inhabitants of the subregion.
The largest impact was on agriculture, as anyone could have foreseen given the ominous links between drought, desertification, soil erosion, and lower crop outputs. Since agriculture tends to provide employment for the most vulnerable sectors of societythose with the lowest levels of education, income, and access to other vital servicesit was precisely those who could least afford it who were the hardest hit.
The Great Central
American Drought of 2001, as it will no doubt be remembered, compounded
two pre-existing situations, magnifying their impact and that of the drought
itself. One was the economic crisis caused by the international drop in
coffee prices; the other, the increased vulnerability as a result of a
succession of adverse climate phenomena over the previous five years.
Tables 1. and 2. illustrate the economic impact on each of the countries in the subregion.
Table 1. – Variation in the GDP as a result of the drought in Central America
Source: ECLAC, based
on official figures.
In short, when the losses are viewed in the context of the economy of each country and the subregion as a whole, they do not appear to be high. One might even assert that, in normal vulnerability conditions, the subregion would have been able to absorb these losses without too much difficulty. This can be seen in Table 3.
Strategic Framework for Drought Mitigation and Prevention
The effects of the 2001 drought cannot be understood systemicallyholistically, as some might saywithout taking into account the feedback loops linking negative environmental and socio-economic developments in the subregion, and their impact on vulnerability. (See Flow Chart 1.) Vulnerability leads to disasters, but disasters also increase vulnerabilityand the Central American Isthmus has suffered from a highly unfortunate streak of disasters in recent years, including El Niño, Hurricane Mitch, and other storms, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. From this point of view, drought is the result of the interactions between climatic variations and human activities.
A strategic framework for drought mitigation and prevention is clearly needed to help Central America respond to future extreme natural events and reduce their socio-economic and environmental impact. This calls for a SWOT approach.2 What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the subregion in this area?
Such a strategic framework must be cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary if it is going to deal effectively with the full complexity of the phenomenon. A purely environmental, say, or socioeconomic approach would hardly meet current needsmuch less an approach that focused entirely on responding to unfolding events. The framework should be comprehensive and serve as a guide for the further development of sectoral strategiesrather, sub-strategiesby specialized institutions. Even this, however, will not be enough unless civil society is vigorously encouraged to participate in the effort.
From Analysis to Action
The ECLAC/CCAD Assessment proposes a series of actions that might prove useful for decision-makers, both in the technical and policy fields. In fact, the study stresses the advisability of building on the foundations of previous expressions of political will by subregional leaders who agreed to promote a development model that is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.
The frame of reference,
in this case, would be the Central American Alliance for Sustainable Development
(ALIDES), established in 1994.Any mitigation and prevention strategy must
also be linked to the various international and regional initiatives aimed
at vulnerability reduction, such as the United Nations Convention on Climate
Change and Desertification.3
For more information