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


Disaster Preparedness in LAC: A Regional Strategy of UNICEF
Nidya Quiroz
Regional Emergency Advisor UNICEF/Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

The increase in the number of natural disasters in Latin America, particularly in Central America, led UNICEF to redefine its strategy for the emergency preparedness of the region. This new strategy included the transformation of different sectors as a way to improve the response of all 24 offices of UNICEF, in a more timely and appropriate manner.

This was part of a global process that started when UNICEF established its Core Corporate Commitments (CCC) in Martigny, in 1998. These commitments will be reviewed during the consultation entitled Martigny II, to be held in Copenhagen in 2005. The process has been addressed by UNICEF in an integral manner, taking into consideration the concept of risk management from a rights perspective.

UNICEF considers its emergency sector a programmatic area that has an impact on all its other actions. Above all, it takes into consideration the vulnerability that children and women face during emergency situations. This emergency sector not only includes disasters, but also armed conflicts, social tensions and economic collapses.


UNICEF highlights the fact that existing inequities and disparities in Latin America, due to the complexity of structural causes that exacerbate poverty, increase the vulnerability of children and women in the presence of disasters.

In the context of a post conflict Central America, the effects of drought, for example, cannot be considered in an isolated manner from the current coffee crises, or the impact of earthquakes and the catastrophe caused by Hurricane Mitch.

Definition of this strategy:

Along these lines, the strategy defines the following geopolitical areas:
a) The Caribbean;
b) Central America;
c) Colombia and neighboring countries; and,
d) The Southern Cone

It also establishes the following priority sectors:
• Human resources;
• Partnerships;
• Preparedness; and,
• Knowledge/early warning

Human Resources:
UNICEF recognizes the value that the growth of local personnel entails. In order to compare existing internal processes of knowledge development and make them more effective, it was necessary to seek countries, institutions and experienced experts in LAC and include them in these processes.

Along these lines, we found in CLAMED (The Latin American Center for Medicine in Disasters), located in Cuba, enriching capacity, proven experience and a number of lessons learned in the Latin American context. From our viewpoint, there was a need to disseminate and democratize this information.

For these reasons, we have developed, jointly with CLAMED, a process aimed at training our emergency staff members and personnel of the Offices for Civil Defense in countries with which we cooperate. Among others, one of the issues that we have addressed in-depth has been the psychological recovery of children affected by disasters.

Another aspect that UNICEF is promoting is its strengthening through partnerships with the academia. In Cuba, through CLAMED, links are being established with ELAM (Latin American Medicine School) -whose curriculum includes credits on medicine for disasters-, so that it contributes to the training of technicians in the region.

UNICEF aspires to establish a network of young doctors throughout LAC. In order to assist both children and adolescents during disasters, UNICEF expects to build a professional base with a specialization in children’s rights.

In the field of human resources, UNICEF also helped constitute a listing of 120 experts in CEPREDENAC (Coordination Center for Natural Disaster Prevention in Central America). It is important to have trained personnel in LAC and having this listing on CEPREDENAC’s webpage has represented a significant help.

While developing its staff, UNICEF has given priority to the subject of humanitarian principles. We have institutional training manuals for our trainers, so that they can subsequently disseminate this process. We are also very interested in promoting the respect for human rights, in particular the rights of children and women victims before, during and after disaster situations.

We recognize that affected people are entitled to a number of rights, but not only as victims. We believe that if they receive support in a timely and efficient manner, they will be capable of recovering both their communities and themselves from the destruction caused by natural phenomena.

We also have training manuals on emergency preparedness and we have translated and adapted educational kits, taking into account the particularities of LAC.

An adequate strategy for coordination and preparedness in any area guarantees the success of its results. Coordinated preparedness is a valuable mechanism for coping with disasters. It has been essential for UNICEF to have key partners in order to act coherently without any duplication of efforts.

The regional office of UNICEF is now located in Panama. Various regional offices are also located in this country and, therefore, we decided to establish links and hold memorandums of agreements with the International Federation of the Red Cross, PMA, the UNHCR and CATHALAC, among others.

This has been a rewarding process. For instance, we were able to welcome and host the PMA, the UNHCR and OCHA in our offices, especially during the stage in which these humanitarian agencies were establishing their own regional offices.

In order to face potential emergencies in LAC, an initiative was established to keep essential supplies in Panama, jointly with the International Federation of the Red Cross. The main storage facilities of UNICEF are located in Copenhagen and, therefore, it takes a long time for shipments to arrive in LAC. Costs increase if supplies are air shipped. To date, the existence of the Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU) has facilitated logistic regional coordination in disaster situations.

An articulated strategy for preparedness and response has been developed with the UNHCR and PMA. For instance, joint missions have been sent to countries at risk.

All the abovementioned actions were designed to optimize UNICEF’s preparedness in case of emergency situations. To this end, TACRO has trained the personnel of our offices on methodologies for drafting emergency preparedness and response plans. UNICEF has developed a method that allows it to involve, in one single week, the entire personnel of a field office in the process of preparing basic sectoral plans. These plans have 15 specific tasks for UNICEF personnel in their response to emergencies.
The most interesting aspect of this preparedness process is that it helps field offices in their efforts to improve team work. It also helps to raise the morale of the personnel and encourage them to work for the mission established by the CCCs.

Knowledge/Early Warning:
One of the main purposes of UNICEF’s preparedness strategy was to increase the existing knowledge of the phenomena that affect LAC.

Via the networks established on the Internet that observe hurricanes and tropical storms in the Caribbean and Central America, UNICEF’s Knowledge Center maintains a daily indirect monitoring observatory. The Emergency Unit operating in TACRO is linked to OPSCEN, an Emergency Observatory located in NY/EMOPS. They also analyze reports from secondary sources and warnings issued within 24 hours to the offices regarding the potential impact of natural and social phenomena.

In addition, UNICEF, along with CEPREDENAC, carried out an inventory of hydro-meteorological early warning systems in Central America. This is intended to collect, at both community and institutional levels, the most relevant experiences in the field of early warnings. Unfortunately, we discovered that there is still much to do to connect these two levels of systems and achieve a true local prevention process.

One of the most rewarding actions of this strategy for disaster preparedness has been the development of the “Riskland” magazine, which helps children prepare for disasters through simple explanations about natural phenomena. By using recreational methods children are able to draw vulnerability maps of their communities, schools and homes, and therefore efficiently prevent potential accidents and deaths caused by disasters.

The partnership established with the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) has allowed UNICEF to reach some 30 countries in LAC. This recreational tool has already been translated into Spanish, English, Portuguese and Creole

It is thanks to this strategy that we can affirm that UNICEF in LAC is better prepared to meet its mandate, which specifically draws on the Preamble of the UN Convention on the rights of the child, stating that children should be the first ones in receiving assistance during emergency situations.