Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
In response to a request made by the government - Dominican Republic and in the framework of the inter-institutional agreement with UNDP, in November 2003, ECLAC carried out an assessment of the socioeconomic and environmental impact of the floods that occurred in the area of Cibao and the basins of the Yuna and Yaque del Norte Rivers. ECLAC’s task was to propose a number of actions and project profiles, not only to surmount these emergencies but also to improve risk management through prevention and mitigation.
It is worth mentioning that flooding was aggravated by both a seismic phenomenon (an earthquake on the northern coast of the country) and Hurricane Odette, which hit the southern area after the hurricane season was considered over.
Flooding extended throughout towns and villages of the northeastern coastal line, the basin of the Yaque del Norte River, and from Villa Riva to Limón de Yuna, in the lower basin of the Yuna River, and resulted in losses in terms of human lives, cattle, crops, productive infrastructure and housing. Climate disruptions of a stream bed in the eastern region of the country, which occurred from the mid-levels of the lower atmosphere to the surface, generated cloudiness and heavy rainfall, especially in the Central Mountain Range, the Valley of Cibao and the northeastern area, as well as on the eastern plain.
The overall costs of direct and indirect damage amounted to $42.5 million of which, according to the methodology developed by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) , $32.6 represents direct losses and $9.9 indirect effects. In addition, the external sector registered losses in the amount of $9.2 million and the major effect was experienced within the productive sector (73.1%), chiefly related to agriculture. With regards to the social sectors (7.5%) this event affected housing, health, sanitation and water services. The most affected population was that of the Northern region, given their higher level of vulnerability and exposure to climate and health risks. These risks were particularly heightened among those women who take on the responsibility of heads of family while their spouses seek alternative employment to rebuild their houses and restore their means of production.
The combined effects of rain and floods also affected, to a lesser degree, the infrastructure of this country. The island’s topography leads to high levels of vulnerability and the need for continued investment in the maintenance of vital systems in key regions of the country. From a hydrological perspective, floods in the basins of the Yaque del Norte and Yuna Rivers resulted from an extreme event (heavy and intense rainfalls on already saturated soils, which caused most of the water runoff) with situations of vulnerability (infrastructure for agricultural activities and housing located in flood-prone areas). An aggravating factor, whose importance is difficult to measure, is the loss of plant cover (particularly forests) in basins and sub-basins. Forests play a pivotal role in regulating water regimes, as they favor water permeation and, therefore, reduce water runoff. Recent studies carried out in the Dominican Republic show that the mid- and lower basins of these two rivers have experienced a process of forest substitution for other uses and purposes. Also, the higher basins are coping with different types of pressures. Regarding infrastructures affected by the natural drainage of water, it is important to consider the existence of various dams, which, in general, contributed to reducing the volume of water, and thus avoided greater damage.
Net losses in property will have minor consequences on the country’s capacity to save and form capital, but this occurs at a time of great fragility and crisis in the national economy. For this reason, international cooperation has been required to overcome this emergency.
The agricultural sector (especially musaceous plants —banana and plantain— and rice) was the sector most affected by floods, particularly the crops of those people who suffered their direct consequences. According to the Secretaría de Estado de Agricultura (SEA) [State Agriculture Department], affected crop surfaces were not too large -20% and 6% respectively -, but economic losses were substantial, since an allotment of these crops was meant to be exported.
At the sectoral level, the greatest effect was felt within productive activities (73%), particularly in terms of agricultural losses. This has consequences on the trade balance, due to the reduction of export products – banana, plantain and rice- as well as to the increase in imports to make up for products of internal consumption. After quantifying damages, it was determined that the total direct and indirect losses amounted to $42.5 million, of which 77% represent direct damage and 23% indirect damage. The agricultural sector was the most affected by floods, with 73% of the total losses, followed by the transports sector with 17%, and health with 4%.
Within social sectors, the most affected areas were health, water and sanitation. In terms of housing, although total losses could have been greater, floods affected more than 1,000 families, as well as the quality of life of a large segment of the population in the northern region of the country, a sector already disadvantaged and with higher levels of vulnerability and exposure to climate and health risks.
In sum, beyond being an event of great economic impact, floods reiterated the high level of vulnerability of this country, associated with a non-integrated basin management. In the strictest sense, the productive sector was the most affected, but at the qualitative level, damage to social sectors was particularly significant. Along these lines, it is important to mention again those women who take on the role of heads- of-household, while their spouses seek alternative employment in other regions in an attempt to rebuild their houses and restore their livelihoods. Special attention and priority should be given to them, in the context of the reconstruction process.
As a response to the assessment of these floods, projects in the amount of $151.8 million are being proposed, mainly in the fields of prevention (28.3%) and improved and integrated basin management (60.1%). These projects would bring about three different benefits: improved water supply for human use and irrigation purposes, improved hydroelectric capacity to reduce the dependency of imported means of energy, and reduced levels of vulnerability to floods.
For further information, please contact: Ricardo Zapata, ECLAC (CEPAL) firstname.lastname@example.org