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


Disasters and hazards in the Region


Devastating effects of disasters during 2005:
The need for adaptation beyond the current situation

The year 2005 confirmed the tendency already observed in 2004: climate-related events are increasing in force, concentration, and number and are either increasingly anomalous or surpassing historic averages. In 2005, for the first time in the 154 years in which hurricanes have been officially registered, 26 hurricanes were recorded and given names in one single year. Many of them (13) had devastating effects on Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean islands and the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Texas.

During 2005, the storms caused 4,600 deaths and adversely affected more than 6 million people. The overall financial impact of these hurricanes is estimated between $200 and $210 billion. Excluding damages recorded in the United States, preliminary estimates of damage and losses in Latin America and the Caribbean reach upwards of $6 billion (of which $2.22 billion correspond to Mesoamerica and the Caribbean). The following chart shows the preliminary estimates of the impact of hurricanes in 2005.



Note: Information on the effects of these events in Mexico and the United States only contains partial data and reflects preliminary estimates. In the case of Mexico, the final assessment is underway and is being carried out by official technical bodies
a/ This includes volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and floods in other countries and are an extrapolation based upon partial information.
b/ Non-official data taken from different information sources.

The events of 2005 showed once again both the overall impact of disasters and the need to have in place emergency plans, warning systems and preparedness measures for multiple hazards and extreme events. Above all, 2005 showed how intervening in nature can have disastrous consequences if the level of vulnerability created is not adequately addressed and if risk reduction measures are not part of national policies and development agendas.

Looking at the hemisphere as a whole, it is important to note that 2005 was an emblematic year in the United States as well. Damage and losses were above those produced by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when there was an estimate of $34.4 billion in property damage and insured losses; the total expenses incurred and losses produced by the swarm of 2004 hurricanes—Ivan, Charlie, and Frances—which were estimated to have caused between $22.9 and $30 billion in damage. While insured losses were estimated at $47.2 billion in 2005 (according to the Insurance Services Organization—ISO), this amount does not take into consideration the impact on the petroleum market (given the reduction in volume for both extraction and refining in the Gulf of Mexico) or the loss of income among the displaced population. Repercussions were also felt in the Central American region where there was a reduction in remittances sent by workers residing in the affected U.S. states.

It is estimated that reconstruction of the affected areas in the United States will take more than ten years. The U.S. Congress has passed $62 billion of emergency and humanitarian aid assistance and has ordered a review of disaster emergency plans in all of the nation’s metropolitan areas.

Other regional weaknesses became evident when Hurricane Wilma devastated Cancun and wreaked havoc on the “Mayan Riviera” of Mexico, which had already been seriously affected by Hurricane Emily in July. In the years to come, the 2005 hurricane season will certainly be a benchmark for measuring actions taken in risk management, disaster mitigation, and adaptation to processes whose cycles will outlast the life cycles of current generations. In Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador—and to a lesser extent in Honduras and Nicaragua, which were later affected by hurricanes Alpha and Beta— Stan exposed social and environmental vulnerabilities that have been exacerbated once again.

All these disasters and their effects show that hydro-climatic activity is clearly on the rise and brings about negative results. This reinforces the urgent need for countries to adapt to these climate changes and to reduce vulnerability to growing and multiple hazards within the context of development policies related to competitiveness, increased productivity, and meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Because of their geomorphologic conditions, many countries in the region need to adopt zoning plans and regulations for human settlements, construction codes, and security standards in order to cope with multiple hazards. This is difficult to do when hazards become disasters.

Thus, we conclude that there is a need to find instruments for reducing and transferring risk in addition to financial instruments that, as anti-cyclical mechanisms, will in fact become tools for compensating losses. This is true for the region as a whole, but is especially important for lesser developed countries and countries with less diversified and resilient economies (which are more dependent on primary sectors and natural resources).

For additional information, please contact:
Ricardo Zapata, rzapata@un.org.mx