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


Plan International
Preparing for Better Risk and Hazard Management

Plan International, an international community development organization that focuses on children, has, in its work around the world, learned many lessons about prevention, response, mitigation, and recovery in disaster situations.

Because of the occurrence of phenomena, such as the hurricanes in Central America and the Caribbean, landslides in South America, earthquakes in Pakistan, volcanic eruptions in the Philippines, and the tsunami that devastated the social, economic, and cultural structures of Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia, Plan International is very aware of the impact that events like these have on its work areas.

This article presents some general reflections on the strategy that the Americas have been discussing with Plan International. It represents some first steps toward what will be a regional strategy.

Photo: Plan International


A. Introduction

The last decade has seen a marked increase in disasters (caused both by natural phenomena and human intervention in the environment). These disasters represent an enormous hindrance for sustainable development because they cause great, human and economic losses globally, regionally, and nationally. Historical records show that, from the time of the 1920 earthquake in Licuac, China, to the devastating tsunami in 2004, more than 6 million people have died as a direct result of disasters. A high percentage of those who died were children and elders.

In developing countries, disasters have been a direct cause of the deterioration in the living conditions of people in certain regions. In addition, they produce a series of macro-economic problems in countries with weak economies. For instance, Hurricane Mitch, which hit Honduras in 1998, caused losses equivalent to 70% of the Honduran GDP.

The following information is also relevant for the Americas:

  • 75% of all climate events in Central America and the Caribbean are originated during the hurricane season which is usually from June to November.
  • NOAA has officially determined that a La Niña phenomenon is forming in 2006.
  • The roles and procedures of a regional office must be clarified for coordinating activities and actions to be carried out by country offices during emergencies.

Along these lines, Plan International has decided to adjust its disaster response strategy for countries, in the Americas, in order to give greater cohesion to its work. For many years, this work has focused on community development, and has recently included a specific focus on children and their rights (as expressed in the four pillars of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: survival, development, protection, and participation).

On many occasions, disasters have a direct impact on the development of children, who are the focus of Plan International’s work, and post-disaster relief efforts do not necessarily guarantee the recovery of communities where the organization is working. Plan International will, therefore, support the design and implementation of actions to reduce existing vulnerabilities in the various communities where it works, as well as at the level of the Regional Office itself, where it is necessary to carry out processes for raising the level of internal awareness.

The purpose is to raise awareness of the dimensions and implications of disasters. This includes geographical areas larger than what Plan International covers through its work. Although Plan International does not intend to shift from being a development organization to being a disaster relief organization, it is important for this organization to be prepared to work alongside disaster response agencies in each country, especially with the various levels of government offices, and, of course, with the communities. The goal is to develop the capacity needed to respond to various possible scenarios in the areas of disaster preparation, mitigation, and response.

In this context, Plan International’s Regional Office for the Americas has taken steps to develop a reference framework for a regional strategy. In the first phase, emergency and contingency plans have been written for all of Plan International’s twelve country offices in the region. These efforts have been promoted by the Regional Office for the Americas.

1. Purpose

The purpose of the risk management strategy is to guide the activities of the Regional Office to help the communities where Plan International has a presence, to reduce vulnerabilities, and respond to disasters in order to guarantee the continuity and comprehensiveness of the community development work focused on children.

2. Area of Application

The risk management strategy is to be applied to the activities of Plan International’s twelve country offices in the region and, more directly, in the communities where this organization is accompanying initiatives and carrying out projects.

This initial strategy includes two areas of intervention: (a) prevention and mitigation of disasters that occur as a result of natural and man-made hazards; and (b) post disaster response, to the impacts of the hazards, through reconstruction activities and actions aimed at recovering the community’s way of life.

3. Main Definitions

Disaster: Disasters are events that have a negative impact on society, property, and the ecological environment, changing a normal situation into an abnormal circumstance that triggers an emergency.

Hazards: Hazards are natural, or man-made, phenomena that cause great trauma to people and damage to the infrastructure of basic services, if they occur in a particular time and place.

Natural hazards: These are hazards in which human beings cannot intervene. Natural hazards arise exclusively from the dynamics of the planet, Earth.

Man-made hazards: These are hazards caused by human beings. They are the result of the way humans use natural resources or organize their societies.
Vulnerability: This is the variable through which human beings can intervene, by using prevention and mitigation measures.
Disaster Risk Management: A group of policies, actions, tools, methodologies, and other means, used to plan for, prevent, and mitigate the effects of a disaster, in order to reduce risks and vulnerabilities, and thus reduce the occurrence of disasters. Disaster Risk Management builds a community’s capacity to transform conditions that cause disasters before they occur.

4. Outcomes of the First Regional Workshop on Emergency and Contingency Plans

B. Process for Drawing Up Emergency and Contingency Plans

Since most of the twelve Plan International offices in the Americas are located in geographic areas facing multiple hazards, it is necessary to have an emergency preparedness and response plan that will help coordinate the work to be done with in the communities and with other international and governmental organizations. At the same time, the plan must provide security to the families of Plan International workers in the event of a disaster. With these things in mind, the first regional workshop on emergency and contingency plans was held in the City of Knowledge, Panama, on May 8-9, 2006. Participants included representatives of Plan International’s offices in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Peru and Bolivia, and representatives of the management team of the Regional Office.

The goal of the workshop was to discuss, reflect on, and make proposals for drawing up communications, resource mobilization, and administrative protocols and guidelines. Presentations were made by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on topics related to shelters, children’s rights during times of emergency, and forming regional teams to follow up on the initiatives and actions of each country in the area of risk management.

Photo: Plan International

C. Protocols/Guidelines Developed

C1. Administrative Protocol in Emergency or Disaster Situations;
C2. Protocol for Resource Mobilization in Emergency or Disaster Situations; and,
C3. Communications Protocol in Emergency or Disaster Situations.

General Considerations

The plans must consider:

  • The need to designate key staff responsible for creating emergency and contingency plans, and for updating and implementing them.
  • How to define the organizational structure during an emergency (to be updated annually). Lines of communication should be established in this structure, which should also include alternate contacts, functions, and responsibilities.
  • Protocols or guidelines for communication, resource mobilization, and administration during emergency or disaster situations.
  • A National Program that includes activities and specific budget allotments for emergency and disaster response, including the output needed to facilitate the operations of the country offices. The idea of this program is not to have an approved budget line item, but rather to have approved amounts ready to be transferred as necessary.
  • The emergency stage: Attention to shelters, water and sanitation, education, children’s protection, food security, and health.
  • The post-emergency stage: Project proposals should be written in order to address issues arising during the reconstruction or recovery stages. These should be aimed at helping communities, families, and children return to their normal lives (living conditions similar to those before the disaster) including the following elements:
    a. Infrastructure: health, education, water and sanitation.
    b. Support for the social development of the community: children’s participation and protection, food security, health, water and sanitation.
    c. Risk prevention and management: It is necessary to put in place an awareness-raising process that allows for the creation of a culture of prevention linked to local development. Providing economic support does not necessarily contribute to human development.
  • All planning and preparedness processes should be tied to possible scenarios and action plans. As a first step, each country office should identify the particular risks that country faces, and determine which of these should, in principle, be addressed by Plan International and the communities. It is necessary to identify the places in each scenario that imply the greatest risk for, and impact on, Plan International’s work with children and communities.
  • In each risk scenario selected, a worst case scenario response should be prepared.
  • Each country office should determine the level of risk for each of its program implementing units, identifying high risk units as A, moderate risk units as B, and low risk units as C. At the same time, each program unit should do a similar classification of the communities where they work. This will generate a map that classifies risks by country and by program units.
  • The countries in this region should have certified emergency and contingency plans by 2007.
  • Finally, it is important to build capacity to cope with catastrophes by using the knowledge and means available locally.


For further information, please contact:
Raúl Rodríguez
Regional Advisor, Water, Environmental Sanitation and Emergencies
Plan International
Regional Office for the Americas
Suite 802, City of Knowledge –Tel: 3171700