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

EIRD Global


The Cross-cutting Theme Initiative: Reduction of Natural Disaster in Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean


The escalation of severe disasters triggered by natural hazards is increasingly threatening human security and sustainable development. Thousands of lives are lost each year, of which more than 90% are in developing countries. Tremendous damage is destroying the living conditions of millions of people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Population growth and rapid and unplanned urbanization are exposing more people to hazards in cities, threatening the stability of their lives. Disasters can turn the development clock backwards, and often times the lack of sound planning is the main cause of increasing disaster risk.

Considering this, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in the framework of the United Nations Interna-tional Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), is implementing an international, multi- disciplinary project entitled The Cross- cutting Theme Initiative: Reduction of Natural Disasters in Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

The goal of the Initiative is to preserve sustainable development and reduce poverty through the reduction of the impact of natural disasters by incorporating risk management as an integral part of public policy as well as city development plans and processes. In its current initial phase, the project is focused on the following participant cities: Antofagasta, Chile; Dehradun, India; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Tijuana, Mexico.

One of the end products of this project will be recommendations to the local governments on normative actions that should be undertaken in terms of urban planning and citizen empowerment in order to enhance disaster reduction.

The long-term vision of this initiative is for cities worldwide to adopt an effective and recognized mechanism to a) improve governance through better use and application of existing knowledge, and b) contribute to sustainable development by significantly reducing the losses due to natural disasters.

Main activites of the initiative

The project builds on previous achievements made with respect to risk management in cities. In particular, it uses the results of the Risk

Assessment Tools for Diagnosis of Urban Areas against Seismic Disasters (RADIUS) project carried out from 1997 to 2000 under the aegis of the United Nations’ International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The project utilizes the practical tools of urban risk management that were developed during the RADIUS project.These tools have been distributed by the United Nations among local authorities of earthquake-threatened cities worldwide.

The cities selected for the current initial phase of the initiative belong to the RADIUS network of cities and are the following ones:

In each of the participating cities, the project will:

• Train local leaders and experts in the use and application of the RADIUS earthquake damage assessment tool.
• Prepare simplified earthquake scenarios for different conditions (i.e. several plausible earthquakes, different building occupancy instances -- e.g. day and night
• Prepare simplified earthquake scenarios for future conditions considering current local growth tendencies.
• Test current urban growth plans and policies to understand their implications in the level of urban risk.
• Identify and test possible risk reduction measures. Perform simplified cost-benefit analyzes. Incorporate the most effective mitigation options into the cities’ development plans.
• Compare the relative risk among the participating cities.
• Promote the exchange of experiences, information, and best practices among the participating cities.
• Raise awareness, both at the local and international levels, of the existing risk and the availability of affordable solutions.

The project’s program of activities is presented in Fig. 1. The three main phases of the project, namely preparation, risk evaluation, and incorporation of risk management in urban planning, are indicated in the figure. A Mid-term meeting was recently held after concluding the risk evaluation phase.

The project started in each city with the visit by the project coordinator to:

• Meet with the local authorities to introduce and explain the project to them
• Implement a kick-off meeting, with the assistance of the local and regional authorities and the participation of representatives of the various sectors of the society, to present the project to the community and ask for their active participation and support
• Establish the local working groups
• Train city officers in charge of the city planning on the application of risk assessment tools and methodologies to urban planning and development programs.

Using the risk assessment tools and methodology provided by the project, the local working groups evaluated the current and future urban earthquake risk. The particular growth tendencies of each city were considered to prepare projections of the cities in the future and estimate the changes in earthquake risk associated with the cities’ growth. The results of these risk estimations and their implications in the proper planning of the cities’ growth were presented in the project’s Mid-Term meeting recently held in Paris.

The MID-TERM meeting

In order to draw lessons from the work done so far and prepare for a potential longer-term initiative, a mid-term meeting was held on 25-26 September 2003, at UNESCO Headquarters in France that allowed city representatives to report on their progress and share their experiences.

The September mid-term meeting provided city representatives and project participants an opportunity to evaluate the project to date. More importantly, it facilitated the following:

• Presentation, discussion, and evaluation of work carried out to date by each participating city
• Exchange of experiences among cities
• Discussion of the application of the project’s risk assess ment and evaluation results to urban planning methods and public policy
• Direct interaction of city representatives and UNESCO, international experts, and potential funders

The recommendations produced in the Mid-Term meeting will be used by the cities to complete the project’s last phase, that is, the incorporation of risk management measures to the cities’ development plans. Once again, city authorities, institutions, and technical experts will be involved in this process. The final recommendations produced by the project in each city will be then presented to the community in public workshops to validate them and obtain community support for their implementation.

The project will conclude by the end of this year with another international symposium to be held in one of the participating cities. Representatives of the four cities will be invited to this event to present the results, findings and recommendations produced by the project to the international community and decide what should be done next, both locally and in collaboration with the other cities.

Follow-up plan

This pilot project will be used to promote and prepare the implementation of a proposed large-scale, long-term initiative that will include:
• Development and application of similar tools for other haz ards, namely floods and landslides
• Incorporation of more cities from around the world
• Establishment of links with other international risk reduction initiatives

This proposed large-scale initiative would be implemented in two phases. The first phase would have a duration of three years and the participation of a dozen cities worldwide. The second phase would include the continuing and progressive incorporation of more cities to this initiative until achieving the initiative’s long-term vision of cities worldwide adopting an effective and recognized mechanism to a) improve governance through better use and application of existing knowledge, and b) contribute to sustainable development by significantly reducing the losses due to natural disasters.

For more information pleazse contact
Dr. Carlos Villacís, M.P.A.,
Project Coordinator
UNESCO/ISDR Consultant
Tel: (1-650) 967-3667
Fax: (1-253) 679-8397

Ms. Cynthia Cardona
UNESCO Consultant
Tel: (1- 408) 251-4042