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


Uruguay: A Project for Preventing and Mitigating Atmospheric and Climate-Related Emergencies

This project, designated as URU/98/011 and funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), was officially presented during a workshop organized by the Secretary of Environmental Management and the International Development Research Center (IDRC), in the context of the Summit of Merco-Cities held in Montevideo on September 16-18, 2003.

In a country in which there are no seismic or volcanic activities and where technological disasters do not represent a high risk, disasters related to atmospheric or climate change cause greater damage in social, economic and environmental terms.

The most dangerous atmospheric phenomena identified in Uruguay are: heavy rainfalls, strong winds, tornados and sea surges. It is also important to take into consideration extreme temperature waves, frosts and hail storms. Although these last two phenomena do not represent major environmental emergencies, economic losses caused by them are significant, given that they can damage extensive crop fields.

Other natural disasters that develop at a slower pace may also occur. These include droughts, which have a significant impact on agricultural and cattle-raising, two of the main economic activities in Uruguay.

Although there are sufficient water resources in Uruguay, this does not represent an even distribution in terms of time and space. In addition, these resources are managed and used based upon incomplete information. Consequently, it would be necessary to develop a strategy for promoting updated and ongoing assessment regarding the availability of surface and groundwater. This should include information about the quality of water as well. It is also worth mentioning that droughts associated with strong winds favor the occurrence of wildfires.

In Uruguay, the analysis of vulnerability to environmental emergencies related to climate change allows us to identify some essential elements, such as:

• Poverty faced by various sectors of the population. This
facilitates the occupation and construction of precarious
housing in areas next to rivers;
• The lack of capacity for organization;
• The lack of public awareness in terms of risk prevention; and,
• Little institutional intervention for coordinating and
developing action and prevention plans.

It is expected that the foundations for achieving the following mid-term goals will be laid through the implementation of this project:

a) The establishment of appropriate early warning systems and integrated risk assessment;

b) The incorporation of risk analyses into environmental impact assessments required to approve different projects, as well as a number of measures needed to reduce vulnerability;
c) The design of strategies related to urban development and land use;
d) The establishment of an adequate legal framework;

e) The development of programs and campaigns aimed at raising awareness; and,

f) The improvement of both information and research systems.

One of the main purposes of this project is to evaluate existing capacities and identify the needs that agencies involved in this field or any related issue have in terms of institutional strengthening, taking into account that atmospheric or extreme climate phenomena must be interpreted in the broader context of long-term tendencies.

Uruguay is in fact located in one of the areas on which “El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) have had a more noticeable impact. Anomalies have been particularly detected with regards to rainfall patterns.

The Climate Change Unit, an Uruguayan executive and operational agency responsible for all activities related to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will strengthen its capacities through this project and will be in charge of supervising and assisting in drafting reports and documents resulting from the project.

It is expected that these report will include the following:

• Identification of atmospheric or climate phenomena that
may generate risk situations. This should also include the
as sessment of their potential occurrence, areas affected,
magnitude and analysis of existing vulnerability of both the
population and strategic infrastructure; and,

• Evaluation of existing needs in terms of information, data
and research that may facilitate planning activities and
decision-making processes.

It is expected that the final outcome of this project be a proposal regarding a plan for reducing climate-related disasters, as well as recommendations to design policies, measures and strategies associated with risk management.

The operational base of the project is the Climate Change Unit (UCC), of the Ministry of Housing, Land Planning and the Environment of Uruguay.

For further information, please contact:
UCC Coordinator, Mr. Luis Santos
Climate Change Unit – National Office for the Environment
Ministry of Housing, Land Planning and the Environment
Telephone number 917 07 10 – extension 4305
Rincón 422 – Third floor. Montevideo-Uruguay