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


CEPREDENAC: Ten years vouching for disaster prevention*

"Traveler, there is no path, Paths are made by walking."
Antonio Machado.

Gerónimo J. Giusto-Robelo *

While taking graduate courses in Sweden some 16 years ago, Aristóteles Vergara, a Panamanian Scientist, noticed the interest shown by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) in the changing processes that were taking place in Central America at that time. He therefore decided to develop an approach on the need and importance of promoting the issue of disaster prevention throughout the region.

Relying on both his own personal reputation and the institutional support that he received from the Technological University of Panama, Vergara suggested that the Swedish contributors organize and hold a Regional Workshop on Disaster Prevention in Central America. In this manner, the workshop was held from September 28 to October 2, 1987, and brought together three representatives of scientific- technical institutions and emergency management agencies from each Central American country.

The Regional Workshop represents the most important background in terms of the efforts devoted to create a regional coordinating body for disaster prevention. This also laid the foundation for developing one of CEPREDENAC´s major characteristics to date: broad-based institutional participation in order to analyze common problems and capacities.

The concrete outcome of this workshop was the creation of the Coordination Center for Natural Disaster Prevention in Central America (CEPREDENAC) as a regional organization –with no legal capacity at this point- whose headquarters was established in Panama.

In 1988, CEPREDENAC was responsible for the strengthening of scientific institutions and emergency management organizations. In order to achieve this goal, the Center channeled existing funds, especially from Swedish donors, to the six participating countries.

Four years later, CEPREDENAC had evolved to the point that it was able to develop a number of important regional institutional features. In December 1991, the Central American Presidents signed an agreement that established the Central American Integration System (SICA). This presented the possibility for CEPREDENAC to have “regional legitimacy”. This process gained momentum on October 29, 1993 when the Central American chancellors signed CEPREDENAC´s Constitutive Agree-ment, which was also endorsed by the presidents of the region and ratified by the six corresponding legislative bodies in 1995.
According to its Constitutive Agreement, CEPREDENAC´s goals include: “The promotion and coordination of international cooperation, the exchange of information, experience, technical assistance and technology in the field of prevention so that natural disasters are reduced, thus contributing to improved decision-making regarding the planning and management of disaster relief for the benefit of the Central American Region."

Ten years after having signed its Constitutive Agreement, this document was recently revised and amended. After taking into consideration the experience gained and the lessons learned, currently the main goal of CEPREDENAC is to “Contribute to reducing vulnerability and the impact of disasters, as an integrated process of transformation and sustainable development in the region”, in the framework of the Central American Integration System (SICA), through the support, promotion and development of measures for emergency prevention, mitigation, preparedness and management."

During these 10 years, CEPREDENAC has contributed to the strengthening of national systems for disaster prevention, response and mitigation in all countries of the region. It has also established technical, technological and scientific links with international agencies working in the field of disaster prevention, risk management and vulnerability reduction.

But CEPREDENAC has not only channeled external funds. In addition, as one of its main tasks, the Center has also promoted the issue of risk management at the political and institutional levels. In order to broaden this promotion process to the Central American society at large and in particular to those living in high-risk areas, CEPREDENAC recently obtained the assistance of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). This led to the production of two radio drama series in two consecutive years. These radio programs are aimed at raising awareness of the hazards of hurricanes, landslides, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

In October 1999, in the context of the 20th Summit of Central American Presidents, the process for promoting risk reduction reached its zenith during this decade when the Strategic Framework for Vulnerability and Disaster Reduction in Central America was approved. This instrument led to the incorporation of disaster prevention as an “essential element for development” in the region.

The accuracy of this statement was especially understood by Central American presidents after the catastrophe of Hurricane Mitch, which claimed 1,191,908 victims, with 12,842 injuries, 9,214 deaths and more than $ 6,019 millions in economic losses.
Ten years after the official creation of CEPREDENAC, and five years after Hurricane Mitch, Central Americans will assess the progress made in the field of prevention during the Regional Forum entitled “Mitch + 5”, to be held in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on December 9-11, 2003.

The Regional Forum is intended to raise awareness of related issues and commemorate those who somehow experienced this tragic event. But this will also represent a valuable opportunity for Central Americans to promote, renew and strengthen socioeconomic and cultural strategic alliances, in order to strengthen a culture of prevention.

At present, national systems for disaster prevention, response and mitigation from all Central American countries that constitute CEPREDENAC, highlight the importance of changing the mindset of our citizens at large, our political leaders and presidents, and our donors regarding the meaning of prevention. There exists no better investment than prevention.

All men and women of CEPREDENAC, as well as its national representatives consider that we contribute to increasing existing risks if decide to ignore them, and that disasters wear away the achievements of development. This is why we hope that Mitch + 5 will reinforce our belief that we will only be able to achieve sustainable development through the establishment of a true culture of prevention.

This is a new and innovative approach in which the expertise required to achieve this goal is still underway. Our struggle is difficult and we still have a long way ahead of us, but we must not forget the words of Antonio Machado, a Spanish poet who said: "Traveler, there is no path, Paths are made by walking."

* This article was written by Geronimo Guisto Robelo, the Executive Secretary of CEPREDENAC.