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


Bolivia: some lessons learned for the implementation of a risk management approach

The biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy was the founder of the “General Systems Theory” (GST). In his opinion, the GST should become both a mechanism for integrating different natural and social sciences, and a basic instrument for the training of scientists. In fact, social fabric, State structures, administrative and budgetary management are all defined and behave like systems. In most disciplines, we can also find the same interpretation derived from the GST, and this includes Risk Management (GR). For instance, many countries are already referring to Risk Management Systems. Although we still do not completely understand the dynamics of social systems and their economic, territorial and environmental components, we are developing the conceptual foundation that will permit us to achieve a better understanding. Along these lines, extensive experience has been gained in Bolivia in the field of Risk Management. One example that illustrates this is the Program for Disaster Prevention (IADB 1121/SF-BO), which makes us reflect on some lessons learned during the last three years, concerning the implementation of a risk management approach.

Taking into account the experiences acquired in other countries, the conceptual foundation developed to date, as well as the interest caused by the major disasters that have occurred during this decade, Bolivia developed a modern legal framework over the course of three years, which envisioned the establishment of government risk management policies. Due to the creation of these mechanisms, it was deemed convenient to design a process for implementing these legal instruments and the National System for Risk Reduction and Disaster and Emergency Response (SISRADE), though assistance offered by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) in establishing policies and strengthening risk reduction activities. In this framework, the Disaster Prevention Program (IADB1121) was created.

This program consists of two different components. The first one is the strengthening of SISRADE through the planning of actions for risk reduction and response strategies within the following sectors: health, education, agriculture, public works and national defense. The second component is the promotion of risk management. This project is being funded under convenient and flexible financial terms during a three-year period (non-extendable). The negotiation and approval processes were relatively simple and fast because it was clear that the government of Bolivia was committed to risk reduction, and because there was already a legal framework in place.

Despite all this, the events that occurred afterwards would show that there was a weak conceptual basis for this risk management approach, as well as conflicts related to institutional competencies, lack of awareness among decision makers and a limited capacity to link risk management to the political and social agendas originated by existing social conflicts.

Description of the situation

The program was developed at the end of 2002. The Board of the IADB approved it in December, 2003 and the contract was signed in June, 2004. Operations and activities began in December 2005. During these three years, the following events occurred:

  1. Due to existing social conflicts and the deficient capacity of governments to build consensus, between August 2003 and December 2005, the country has had three different presidents. This situation has led to the fast turnover of ministries and other public officials. For instance, during this period there were seven different ministers of sustainable development. Thus, institutional systems and frameworks were greatly affected.

  2. These changes in establishment also led to changes within the State, due mostly to the passing of four different regulatory laws that deeply affected its organizational structure and responsibilities, as they had been established by the legal framework of 2003. The contents included in these new legal standards represent a setback in the area of risk management, as well as a conflict between two institutions that issued different interpretations, causing confusion at the moment of applying these new laws.
  3. During this period, various initiatives from a number of international organizations and NGOs were developed and led to the development of national and sub-national projects. Due to the existing level of confusion, these initiatives have made it more difficult to reach an appropriate level of coordination. This is reflected by the lack of coherence between most actions taken. This also has an impact on the efforts devoted to establish an integrated system that goes from the national to the municipal levels and vice versa. Some of these initiatives are worth systematizing.

  4. During this same period, a number of adverse events occurred, exceeding the national capacity to adequately respond to them (please see Figure No. 1). As it may be observed, there exists an interesting ratio between emergency responses and social conflicts (12% between 2002 and 2005). This has created a bias in the interpretation and role of military bodies within the SISRADE; the availability and use of financial resources for risk management, and the conceptual interpretation of a natural or anthropogenic emergency or disaster, versus a social conflict that put national security at risk. The social problems that surfaced during this period have generated a great deal of human suffering, with the actions of the government being torn between controlling the public forces and providing and coordinating humanitarian assistance.

Actions implemented

Although this process grew to be complicated with a new change in government in August 2003, initially, it had very important partners such as PREANDINO1 and the Risk Management Project in San Pedro River (PGRSAP), financed by the GTZ. These partners provided assistance to and strengthened the Ministry of Sustainable Development for the fulfillment of its main tasks. Aware of these problems and the possibility of affecting existing credit lines due to considerable delays in the implementation of this process, the PGRSAP/GTZ and the IADB, in coordination with the ministries of sustainable development and national defense, promoted actions that supported the continuity of the IADB 1121 project. These actions were taken under the following principles:

  1. Reach agreements. Create spaces for dialogue between the ministries of sustainable development and national defense. Through letters and other means, agreements were reached in support of the implementation of this program.
  2. Build capacities. Establish a standard conceptual foundation through a capacity-building process intended for public officials, with the assistance of the UNDP.
  3. Develop and assess a logical framework. Carry out a rapid assessment of the current situation involving the management of existing hydrometeorological, seismic and volcanic hazards, as well as regarding vulnerability analyses, impact assessments, and preparedness and response plans. Based on this study, a logical framework for risk management was developed in Bolivia, through a participatory process with all institutions that compose the SISRADE (please see Figure No. 2).
  4. Creation of a coordinating unit. With the valuable support of PGRSAP/GTZ, a number of activities of the Program Coordinating Unit (UCP) were carried out to promote spaces for consensus building, in order to meet the requirements established for the program's eligibility and provide technical assistance to the beneficiary ministries.
  5. Organization of a coordinating platform. Due to the need to create a logical framework for risk reduction in Bolivia, a space entitled Forum of Cooperating Bodies for Risk Management and Sustainable Development was created to coordinate efforts with NGOs and international development agencies. The aim of this forum was to improve the existing capacity to coordinate efforts and create synergies between programs and projects that include integrated actions, through the UCP, the IADB 1121 Program and all stakeholders involved.

Some lessons learned

The following lessons were learned throughout this process:

  • The implementation of a systemic approach for risk management is an ongoing process based upon the existing socioeconomic conditions and policies in each country, as well as the capacities and processes established within other consolidated systems. In other words, it is important to foresee the potential effects of risks and disasters on sectoral development strategies, showing the importance of incorporating them in a comprehensive manner and beyond the establishment of isolated risk management policies and plans.
  • Concerning the reduction of existing vulnerabilities and the creation of monitoring systems for disaster response, it is necessary to put into context and prioritize all State actions. It is also important to define risk indicators within this process, so that short, mid and long-term measurable goals are established, based upon their cost-benefit ratio. This would show the level of effectiveness of those prevention and mitigation actions undertaken. It is also important to show, through appropriate indicators, the effectiveness and efficiency of resource management and coordination activities in emergency or disaster situations.
  • The development of this type of system must be promoted gradually by fostering the strengthening of existing coordination mechanisms and by analyzing decentralization processes. This will lead to the promotion of appropriate vertical and horizontal integration, based upon the participation of civil society in decision-making processes.
  • It is important to continue developing processes for capacity building in the area of risk and disaster reduction. This will lead to the creation of research mechanisms that collectively will expand existing learning capacities and knowledge development. In this manner, a conceptual foundation will be developed in order to adapt this system to national and cultural conditions.
  • It is also important to continue developing dissemination activities and programs for raising awareness among the population at risk, based on existing capacities for communicating and developing a type of knowledge able to adapt to its environment. This will lead to the creation of new habits and customs toward the reduction of existing vulnerabilities.
  • Finally, it is imperative to establish units, platforms or mechanisms that favor the exchange of information, in order to foster coordination at sectoral and sub-national levels. This will lead to the establishment of clear responsibilities and the inclusion of other actors, such as aid agencies, NGOs and the private sector.

Although this account has not yet come to an end, it is expected that the IADB 1121 Program will continue to foster the creation of coordination channels and opportunities for different stakeholders, departments, municipalities and other programs related to risk management to receive technical assistance, with the common purpose of reducing the existing levels of vulnerability in Bolivia.

For additional information, please contact:
Marco Antonio Rodríguez
Consultant, risk management