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


FEMICA: 10th Meeting of the Central American Network for Decentralization and Municipal Strengthening

It has become a tradition for local governments in Central America to meet on an annual basis. In this context, FEMICA organized the 10th Meeting of the Central American Network for Decentralization and Municipal Strengthening, which took place on October 21-24 at the Casa Santo Domingo Hotel in Antigua, Guatemala. On this occasion, the main issue addressed was “Local Risk Management: A Challenge for the Development of Municipalities in Central America.” This activity was carried out with the valuable support of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ).
The event brought together 180 participants, especially representatives of the municipal sectors including mayors, deputy mayors, council members, directors of technical units, chiefs and executive directors of national municipal associations, and other local officials. In addition, professionals working on projects and programs related to this issue actively participated in this gathering. Most of these projects and programs are carried out with foreign aid and are aimed at strengthening municipalities throughout the region.

It is also worth mentioning the participation of congressmen, officials from both central governments and decentralized bodies, members of the academic sector, private organizations, multilateral cooperation agencies and regional organizations. In addition to the delegates from the six Central American countries, a number of speakers and representatives from Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland and the United States participated in this meeting.

The overall goals of the event were met and its participants were provided with:

• Concepts, information and practical methods that will allow them to address risk issues at the municipal level; and,
• Support in order to reflect on the reality, resources for and possibilities of promo-ting a safer type of development within their municipalities.

A quick review of the discussions and comments made during the working sessions, allows us to highlight the following aspects:

• Although organization and training are important elements for local risk management, it is also necessary for municipal governments to integrate this issue as an essential part of their overall management; and,

• Hardly any mayor is prepared to face the major challenges that appear as a consequence of disaster situations. Along these lines, it is important to plan and carry out drills as a way to learn more about the challenges implied in a tragedy.

• number of experiences have shown that integrated risk management –which requires congruence between scientific-technological aspects, political will and
administrative decisions of the local government- must include the following elements:

• Identify existing risks by using different tools such as maps, land use and development plans; the incorporation of the concept of risk into formal education programs and plans, and dissemination of related information among the public at large;

• Reduce the level of risk by implementing construction and urban development codes, regulations related to land use –which must incorporate risk reduction-, land use and development plans, mitigation actions, environmental rates to obtain additional resources, and the reinforcement of essential but vulnerable buildings;

• Manage disasters, which requires the use of Emergency Municipal Plans and the holding of drills on a regular basis with all local actors. It is also important to provide different operational bodies with search-and-rescue and medical assistance training, carry out programs regarding housing relocation and reconstruction, and improve the overall environment of these communities, among others; and,

• Transfer risk to financially protect municipalities and assist the poorest sectors of the population.

The experience gained shows that public services are one of the most affected sectors by natural disasters. In this sense, water and sanitation systems must be considered an integrated part of risk. This may raise some challenges such as: (a) the settlement of population groups in disaster-prone areas also puts service infrastructures at risk; and, (b) the provision of basic services in secure areas also constitutes a tool for land use.

Risk management represents a strategy for municipal development, as it is a social process aimed at reducing and controlling risk in a permanent manner. This must be consistent with sustainable human, economic and environmental guidelines. Therefore, risk management requires the establishment of systems or organizational and institutional structures, as well as broad-based civil participation.

It has been proven that vulnerability reduction has not been part of the official agenda or the management priorities of political authorities. This, despite the fact that risk management is not only about scientific issues or civil participation, but also a matter of political management; that is, governance.

Vulnerability reduction must be a specific goal of development planning. This entails the following: (a) reformulate existing policies; (b) update the national legislation;(c) develop an integrated concept of information systems; (d) strengthen capacity-building processes; (e) foster civil participation; and, (f) establish a financial strategy.

Along these lines, risk management must be an ongoing State strategy and, as such, it must involve at least 4 types of public policies: (a) identification of existing risks; (b) risk reduction; (c) disaster management; and, (d) risk transfer (which is related to financial protection).

Finally, as part of the planning of our next meeting, it was announced that these issues will be further discussed during the 11th Meeting of the Central American Network for Decentralization and Municipal Strengthening, entitled: "Effectiveness and Transparency: Challenges of Local Governments.” This meeting will be held in 2004.

It was rewarding for the Federation of Municipalities of the Central American Isthmus to successfully have reached the goals of this meeting. This contributed to the development and strengthening of municipalities throughout the region.