International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
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Newsletter for Latin America and the Caribbean        Inssue No. 15, 1999


People Helping People: strengthening Central American local authorities’ capacity for disaster prevention

Future generations will not remember hurricane Mitch as the worst natural disaster of the 20th Century, but as a turning point to start the 21st Century with the regional transformation of the poverty caused by Mitch into a situation in which people can live with dignity, security and prosperity.
— International Labour Organization, “Decentralization and strengthening of local government”

The People Helping People project –Strengthening Central American Local Authorities in Disaster Reconstruction and Prevention—was based on equitable cooperation agreements between European and Central American municipal governments, with the goal of contributing to the technical capacity of municipalities to plan and implement post-Mitch reconstruction with the support of European municipal technicians.

Just as, in their time, the issues of gender, environment, decentralization, and strategic planning were a key component of Central American projects, the current stage is characterized by natural disaster prevention, mitigation and response, as a result of the devastation wrought by hurricane Mitch and the fragility it uncovered.

It is imperative nowadays not only to know what is being done on this subject, but also to achieve effective coordination and synergy with efforts already underway, preventing duplication of efforts and the resultant waste of scarce resources.

Hurricane Mitch raised awareness of the need to prevent similar catastrophes, both at the government and local level. But awareness does not equal solutions. There is a need for creative mechanisms of participatory planning incorporating natural disaster mitigation, prevention and preparedness.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), the IDNDR and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) have promoted an inter-agency and municipal project to benefit several local communities.

The specific objectives of the project include the following:

  • Support mayor’s offices in the participatory design of development and land-use plans incorporating disaster prevention and mitigation.
  • Strengthen local coordination mechanisms.
  • Create or strengthen links of solidarity between European and Central American municipalities.
  • Support local actors in Central America in risk mapping, based on the historical memory of communities and the technical assistance of relevant institutions and decentralized cooperation technicians.
  • Support municipalities in the implementation of temporary and permanent job creation policies within the framework of reconstruction, keeping most of the capital for reconstruction within the communities themselves through labour-intensive practices.
  • Systematize and validate an intervention methodology that can be replicated elsewhere.

The project focuses on the following key areas:

  • Participatory strategic planning.
  • Institutional strengthening.
  • Community strengthening.
  • The establishment of durable links.
  • Coordination with projects currently under way.
  • Decentralized cooperation.
  • Use of local labour.
  • Systematization.

For more information, please contact:
Indiana González, UNOPS, San Salvador

Tenth Summit of Heads of Government of Central America, Belize and the Dominican Republic
18-19 October 1999, Guatemala

The presidents of Central America and the Dominican Republic and the Prime Minister of Belize met in Guatemala on 18-19 October 1999 for their 10th summit, which for the very first time dealt specifically with the region’s vulnerability to natural phenomena, including hydrometeorological and geological hazards.

Among other measures, the heads of government agreed to adopt the Strategic Framework for the Reduction of Vulnerability and Disasters in Central America, including prevention and mitigation activities, preparedness, and emergency management, paying special attention to the most vulnerable groups and sectors of society, particularly those marginalized due to their poverty or gender. The framework contemplates all aspects of natural disaster reduction, and focuses on scientific and technical expertise, emergency preparedness and response, formal and informal education, and awareness raising among the general public. The goal is to introduce vulnerability-reducing prevention and mitigation components into all development plans, general and sectoral programmes and projects.

As part of the Plan of Action, early warning systems will be created or strengthened to prepare the population for hydrometeorological and geological phenomena. Some will be regional in scope, such as those dealing with El Niño, La Niña, hurricanes, and drought, while others will be national or local, such as those dealing with volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and landslides.

Government heads also agreed to establish the Central American Five-year Plan for Disaster Vulnerability and Impact Reduction, 2000-2004. During that period, efforts will focus on disaster reduction as a key component of sustainable development. The hope is that the international community will support these efforts. CEPREDENAC will be entrusted with coordinating the Five-year Plan.

The Plan may be found at
For more information, please contact:
Rolando Durán
Executive Secretary