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


The effects of hurricane Stan in El Salvador and Guatemala

Ricardo Zapata Marti, Point Person for Disaster Evaluations, ECLAC1
(This complete documents can be found on the internet: www.eclac.cl/mexico)

At the request of the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala, ECLAC carried out two studies on the impact of Hurricane Stan. Inter-institutional, multi-disciplinary, and inter-agency teams – which included the participation of international financial institutions (the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund), United Nations agencies (PAHO/WHO, FAO, ILO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA and IOM), and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) – gathered more than thirty experts and specialists to work in both countries from October 26 to November 8, 2005, and assess the socioeconomic and environmental impact of this disaster. Teams in both El Salvador and Guatemala received technical support and backing from the governments, various ministries, decentralized bodies and social funds, among others. The teams also received input from the private sector and civil society organizations.

The impact of this regional disaster that affected El Salvador and Guatemala as well as Mexico in a violent and tragic way also had local consequences. Therefore, the recovery must be seen on at least three levels:

  • Local: In the context of the social, physical, economic, and environmental vulnerabilities faced by local communities with distinct topography, economic and productive structures, ethnicities, and culture;
  • National: The hurricane had not only a differential impact but also effects on the dynamics of vulnerable groups and their ability to recover; and,
  • Regional: The hurricane had consequences beyond national borders. Recovery, reconstruction, and risk and

vulnerability reduction will be accelerated and synergized if there is regional cooperation.

Two areas stand out as priorities: the shared and cooperative management of biosystems that include communities, resources and similar structures– such as territorial management, particularly of watersheds– and the potential to reduce the financial cost and the resources necessary to reduce risk. The latter refers to the need to value environmental management as a strategic element for risk reduction, and to place a value on environmental services as an alternative source of income for populations located in these fragile and degraded biosystems where typical productive activities deplete environmental resources and threaten their sustainability.

Leveraging financial resources – not only as anti-cyclical instruments in the face of the costs of future emergencies – will facilitate the mobilization of the resources and investment necessary to carry out ambitious, multi-national risk reduction initiatives. This requires strengthening and promoting financial instruments that are negotiable in international markets. The participation of local communities affected by a disaster is necessary in these processes because of the diversity of their ethnic groups and cultures, gender differences, etc.

The following can be stated about the effects of Hurricane Stan:

a) Stan was a relatively “extreme” event that added to the seasonal rains, which in this case aggravated the recurring effects in all affected areas. The landslides in the highlands and floods on the coast reveal the existing level of vulnerability as a result of inappropriate management of watersheds, the use of mountainsides for agricultural production and deforestation, and prior to the disaster, human development and poverty rates below the national average;
b) The response to the emergency was complicated due to the isolation and marginalization of some communities, especially in the highlands. For certain isolated communities the emergency is not over yet. Once they recover from this disaster they must begin to prepare for the next emergency and restore their monitoring and warning systems, particularly in the highlands where adequate monitoring networks were not in place. These measures will be more effective if the communities themselves are the ones who adopt and manage them and determine the appropriate mechanisms to respond to existing hazards, taking into account their own culture, customs, and local knowledge; and,
c) In addition to economic effects, this disaster also had social consequences.

Thus, there is a clear need to promote sustainable development and open markets for environmental goods and risk management instruments, taking into account processes aimed at adapting to climate change and variability.

While the need for risk management has been recognized for quite some time - given the multiple meteorological, seismic, and geological hazards in El Salvador and Guatemala – more solid and lasting risk management and reduction policies are required. The social impact, the greatest in quantitative terms, also has a qualitative impact on different population sectors, particularly the most vulnerable groups: the rural population, campesino women, and small businesses whose “backyard” economy suffered damages and losses that may not highly visible but have negative consequences for their well-being.

The social impact will aggravate existing tendencies in the economy and will hinder improvements to the human development index, drive up dependence on remittances, and lead to negative consequences for the social fabric: migration, marginalization, and social pressure that affect public safety and security.

1 The ECLAC evaluation mission was requested by the Ministry of Planning of Guatemala (SEGEPLAN). The government appointed economist Gert Rosenthal to support the national team and facilitate the work done in the context of this evaluation. The team received support from various U.N. agencies (FAO, UNFPA, ILO, PAHO/WHO, IOM, UNICEF, and UNDP), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB). The team also received the support of experts from various government ministries and the Inter-Institutional Indigenous Coordination Agency. The President’s Ministry of Women provided input on gender issues. The team also received input from the business sector and private sector associations.