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




Is a different vision required after a challenging year?

In the Americas, as in other regions of the World, 2005 was a year full of surprises, and not necessarily agreeable ones. Thousands of people are dead and millions more have been affected by disasters of different sorts. Developing countries have suffered enormous economic losses, as have countries with the greatest buying power.

While it may well be true that a good deal of damage has been caused by disasters in years past and that few places on the planet have been immune, the tsunami in the Indian ocean at the end of 2004, the earthquake in Pakistan, and the devastating tropical storms in Central America, Mexico, and the United States, could lead one to think that this past year was out of the ordinary.

Objectively speaking, however, a more thorough examination of what happened this past year, coupled with careful observation of the trends of previous years might lead us to the question of whether we really ought to be surprised.

It is true that no one expected such an intense hurricane season in our region. While experts had predicted an above average level of activity, they never imagined that there would be a record-breaking number of tropical storms. The unprecedented number of hurricanes in 2005 has generated a lot of questions as to the reasons behind these recent disasters in the region.

There are some people who assert that the recent deaths and damage related to tropical storms and hurricanes are due to global warming. However, we must be careful in our interpretation of what has occurred since, even if there are indications pointing to global climate changes, that in no way suggests that recent events are attributable to those changes. Indeed, we know with a great deal of certainty that natural disasters have impacted the region in the past, bringing with them incalculable damage. Earth is a living planet with its own natural cycles that for millions of years have manifested themselves inexorably and will most certainly continue to do so for millions of years to come.

Tropical storms occur in long and short cycles that are part of natural climate variability. Historically, precipitation levels and the number and force of hydro-meteorological events have followed cyclical patterns and it would appear that much for the current variability can be attributed to these natural cycles. It may also be the case that global climate change—still impossible to quantify—also has an influence in the sense that a larger proportion of tropical storms achieve higher degrees of intensity. Nonetheless, the reality is that this debate is far from being settled and we still do not know what the long term effects of climatic change will be. In this sense, in the years to come, adaptation to climate change will be an issue that will receive substantial attention from many different organizations; undoubtedly it will be an important issue not only in Central America and the Caribbean, but in many other parts of the world as well.

The past year has demonstrated that the vulnerability of communities in many parts of the region (and throughout the world) is a crucial area that must receive more attention from governments and international organizations. This is true for more economically solvent countries as well as for developing countries. In short, the recent disasters remind us that vulnerability to disasters has by no means been resolved and that retoric is insufficient to bring about significant changes in this regard.

While joint efforts have led to a significant progress in the area of disaster reduction in recent years, ongoing conditions in Latin America and the Caribbean still lead to increased vulnerability. Deficient regulatory policy in a number of areas, the current characteristics of urban management in many areas, problem in environmental resource management, and persistent social inequity in many population centers are factors that force large sectors of society to live in poverty, and in ecologically fragile and degraded areas. For this reason, so long as the situation does not improve, in all likelihood we will continue to see the cyclical occurrence of disasters.
The above not withstanding, there are, fortunately, many hopeful indicators for the future that suggest to us that with the necessary will and effort, we can succeed. Reducing vulnerability is an area about which we already know a great deal and we have access to documented examples of valuable experiences that offer illuminating lessons. Ideally, this knowledge would be applied and used more frequently than it is today. This is important in order to reduce vulnerability from a number of different approaches and to develop policy and (new) strategies in different areas, all in the context of intensive cooperation with countries, regional institutions, multilateral organizations, and other bodies.

Clearly, efforts to bring about change, raise awareness, and strengthen institutional ties, would benefit from easier access to technical, scientific, and other types of information on disaster reduction. This means facilitating access to information so as to contribute to the development of innovative approaches that help foster a broader culture of prevention. It will also be critical to think about developing new models for early warning systems, always keeping in mind the importance of designing and implementing them in keeping with the local reality, wherewithal, and conditions. Of course, while the development of new technologies can be very promising and helpful for disaster prevention and mitigation, it is rarely the only, or even the most important, aspect of a solution. The only way to create durable, realistic solutions is by adopting a more holistic vision.


Perhaps one of the clearest lessons that we can glean from this past year is the need to work together and in an interdisciplinary manner to create more resilient societies. There are various paths to make progress in this aspect. However, we would like to underscore that the development or strengthening of national disaster reduction platforms may be a very effective mechanism. It is one that is sustainable in the long term and can equip countries with more and better tools to identify durable solutions for reducing vulnerability and to ensure greater involvement from different fields and stakeholders so that, together, they might contribute to the construction of more just and better prepared societies.

In this context, such platforms can be conceived of as a national mechanism: a dynamic process that can take the shape of a forum, network, or committee, with multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary representation devoted to promoting a disaster reduction agenda in a particular country. Among the strategic objectives identified in the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters is “the development and strengthening of institutions, mechanisms and capacities at all levels, in particular at the community level, that can systematically contribute to building resilience to hazards.” In the same vein, the Framework appeals to nations to “support the creation and strengthening of national integrated disaster risk reduction mechanisms, such as multi-sectoral national platforms.”

Change of address of UN/ISDR Regional Unit.

After thirteen years in Costa Rica, the UN/ISDR Regional Unit for Latin America and the Caribbean has moved to Panama.

The new ofice is located in Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge), where several other regional offices of the United Nations system, NGOs and other institutions are also operating.

Our new address:
United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR)
Casa 843 A y B Avenida Arnoldo Cano Arosemena en el Campus de la Ciudad del Saber, Corregimiento de Ancón, Panama
PO BOX 0816-02862
, Panama City, Panama
Telephone: (507) 317 1124, 317 1120 y 317 0775.
Fax: (507) 317 0600

Electronic mail and website will remain the same.
ISDR mail eird@eird.org
Dave Paul Zervaas, Regional Coordinator dzervaas@eird.org
Haris Sanahuja, Regional Policy Advisor hsanahuja@eird.org
Margarita Villalobos, Public Awareness Officer margarita.villalobos@eird.org
Carola Benefico, Program Officer cbenefico@eird.org