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


Bolivia- Peru Experiences in Bolivia and Peru for Strengthening Local Capacities In Response to the "El Niņo" Phenomenon
Orlando Chuquisengo
Geo- engineer

In early 2002, specialized international organizations anticipated the potential recurrence of the “El Niño” phenomenon in the summer of 2003. In Peru, slight anomalies were experienced, especially in terms of the Sea Surface Temperature (SST), wind changes and the atmospheric pressure. It was expected that this time “El Niño” would be similar to the phenomena experienced in 1992 and 1987 respectively; that is, a “weak” episode. Other experts however, stated that it would range “between moderate and strong.”
The media covered this issue extensively during 2002, creating a “crisis” environment. A state of emergency was declared in at least one-third of the national territory. In addition, drawing on past experiences -1983 and 1998-, the Peruvian central government designed a program that involved different organizations: Civil Defense and its regional, provincial and district committees; regional governments, the Ministries of Agriculture, Education, Transport and Women; and sectoral bodies, such as PRONAA and the program entitled “Working in Rural and Urban Areas”, among others. The government program focused on mitigation actions and training for the health and education sectors. Furthermore, a number of NGOs and local institutions coordinated actions with the central government in order to be prepared for potential emergency situations

It is worth mentioning that in both Peru and Bolivia, even moderate ENSO phenomena have had significant impacts on our communities. This has led to an increase in the number of disasters such as floods, landslides, severe storms, frosts and droughts. These phenomena have also affected all productive activities, especially fishing, agriculture and cattle-raising.

In the summer of 2003, speculations revolving around the “El Niño” increased and organizations responsible for monitoring the phenomenon would normally disagreed with each other. Finally, in late February, these bodies explained that the “El Niño” episode had weakened or “diluted.”

In Bolivia, it was expected that droughts would take place in the southern part of La Paz and Santa Cruz, as well as in the Departments of Oruro and Potosí. It was also anticipated that floods would occur to the southeast of the Department of Beni.

In the case of Peru, potential droughts were threatening the Southern Sierra, while both the central and northern coasts were facing a high probability of flooding. According to the predictions, then, it was more likely that droughts hit the highlands of Cuzco, Puno, Moquequa and Tacna, and that floods would occur in areas located on the central and northern coasts. Instead, the opposite happened. Droughts hit Northern Peru, as the rainfall in the Sierra did not even reach the normal average of 600 mm. Therefore, water levels in river basins decreased to 400 meters above sea level and, in May, water was already a scarce resource. Given that farmers are not provided with water for irrigation on a regular basis, this event directly affected their crops.

Additionally, in southern Peru and Northern Bolivia rainstorms caused floods and, in January and February, the phenomenon caused hail storms, frosts and landslides, as well as more floods in the central and northern jungle areas.

In this context, ITDG implemented the project entitled “Strengthening Local Capacities Peru and Bolivia, in Response to the El Niño Phenomenon.” The project was funded by the Lutheran World Relief, and Save the Children, Sweden, and implemented by local counterparts in Potosí (Bolivia) and Tumbes, San Martín, Lambayeque and Cajamarca (Peru). The major characteristics of this project were: (a) A gender and children’s rights approach; (b) It focused on municipalities and schools; and, c) It was intended to foster emergency preparedness but also to include, when possible, strategies for risk reduction.

In the context of this project, the following activities were carried out; (a) Drawing of risk maps in municipalities and education centers; (b) Training workshops for drafting emergency preparedness plans; (c) Incorporation of risk management into training activities for teachers, promoted by the Ministry of Education; (d) Launching of campaigns for raising awareness among school students, in order to promote broad-based community participation in risk reduction, especially in the face of the “El Niño” phenomenon; and (e) The exchange of experiences in the field of prevention, gained by both public and private organizations.

It is worth mentioning that this was an enriching and diverse experience. The counterparts of Save the Children worked at school levels and with educational institutions, focusing on children’s rights. On the other hand, the counterparts of the Lutheran World Relief worked based on a gender approach and their efforts focused on the strengthening of both local communities and governments in rural areas. Likewise, ITDG promoted an approach based on risk management and gave priority to strategies for local development in rural and poor communities in these two countries. It is also worth mentioning that the Peruvian Ministry of Education organized training activities for teachers, including for the first time emergency preparedness and risk management. These issues were addressed by ITDG through the holding of workshops in 12 different Departments of the country.

The project allowed us to develop and validate methodologies used for preparing risk maps in case of disasters, and emergency plans from a risk management perspective. Maps include threats by zone and address different aspects of vulnerability: accessibility, poverty level, basic services and institutional capacities. Emergency plans are based on an innovative analysis of threats, vulnerability and local capacities. This is intended to highlight the importance of these aspects. Both diagnoses and plans are carried out and prepared with the participation of local actors, complementing in this manner the information gathered and the analyses carried out by professionals assigned to the project.

Other fundamental aspects of this project were knowledge development and information production in terms of all disasters associated with the “El Niño” phenomenon. Although ITDG already had the “Desiventar” program –which makes available information about disasters occurred during the last three decades-, this project facilitated the incorporation of more detail-oriented information. This was the result of field, documental and journalistic research conducted within this project, as well as the information collected in terms of natural and/or physical features (weather, soil, etc.), and data produced by the populations themselves through their “popular memory.” Finally, reports were prepared on a monthly basis on all disasters related to the “El Niño” phenomenon. These reports were disseminated among all involved agencies and counterparts.

A proof of the project’s success –which ended in August-, is that authorities, NGOs, institutions, and some cooperating agencies are now required to hold training sessions, draw maps and prepare risk management plans in order to work in other areas of Peru and Bolivia. Likewise, ITDG´s participation has increased through conferences on issues related to disasters and children’s rights, in the context of national and international events organized by UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and the Institute for Civil Defense.

For further information, please contact:
Orlando Chuquisengo, Ing. Geógrafo