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


The Inter-American Committee for Natural Disaster Reduction (IACNDR)

The Inter-American Committee for Natural Disaster Reduction (IACNDR) is the main forum of the OAS and the Inter-American System for the analysis of policies and strategies aimed at natural disaster reduction in the context of the sustainable development of member states. The OAS General Assembly established the IACNDR (AG/RES. XXIX-O-99) based on the need to strengthen the role of the OAS in natural disaster reduction and emergency preparedness.

The IACNDR is chaired by the Secretary General of the OAS and comprises:

  • The Chair of the Permanent Council.
  • The Assistant Secretary General of the OAS.
  • The President of the Inter American Development Bank (IDB).
  • The Director General of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
  • The Secretary General of the Pan-American Institute of Geography and History.
  • The Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
  • The Executive Secretary of the Inter American Council for Integral Development (CIDI).

The purpose of the IACNDR is to propose policies and strategies that can guide member states’ decisions on natural disaster reduction. Specifically, these proposals must contribute to reducing natural disasters through the implementation of sustainable development mechanisms that reduce the countries’ vulnerability, and through the design of emergency preparedness and response coordination and cooperation tools, so that international and national assistance can be more effective and prompt.

The IACNDR has established three Working Groups:

  • Vulnerability Assessment and Indexing, headed by the OAS.
  • Financing and Natural Disaster Reduction, headed by the IDB.
  • Emergency Preparedness and Response, headed by PAHO.

The first Working Group advises the IACNDR on the development and application of vulnerability assessment mechanisms and the production of reliable vulnerability indicators. The second Working Group researches and recommends alternative financial support methods for reducing vulnerability to natural disasters. The third Working Group evaluates and proposes mechanisms for improving international and national coordination in the event of an emergency.

The IACNDR, in supporting the OAS Permanent Council, can:

  • Strive to reinforce the commitment of member states to the mandates adopted in the field of natural disaster reduction.
  • Recommend the setting of priorities in the use of resources by the OAS and the Inter-American System.
  • Support technical recommendations that may include:
    1. Guiding investment resources for vulnerability reduction towards specific sectors of the population or specific geographical areas.
    2. Define priorities in the field of technical cooperation.
  • Reinforce the links between the concepts of disaster reduction and development, as part of the three main components of hemispheric policy: democracy, free trade, and sustainable development.
  • Identify preferences in the implementation of vulnerability assessment and indexing techniques to be supported by international development assistance.

As noted by OAS Secretary General César Gaviria during the first Committee meeting, the IACNDR is meant to be a space for dialogue, reflection, and the proposal of policies and strategies to guide the decisions of member states on natural disaster reduction, prevention, and preparedness. Moreover, the participation of the IACNDR member organizations should increase the capacity to identify, assess, and reduce the vulnerability of the peoples and economic and social infrastructure of the Americas.


OAS /Inter-American Committee
for Natural Disaster Reduction (IACNDR)
Working Group on Vulnerability Assessment and Indexing

The Vulnerability Assessment and Indexing (VAI) Working Group, headed by the OAS, is one of three Working Groups of the Inter-American Committee for Natural Disaster Reduction (IACNDR). The objective of VAI is to draft recommendations on the structure, function and application of vulnerability assessment mechanisms and indicators for natural disasters. These recommendations are submitted to the Permanent Council of the OAS for consideration, and to assist member States in the implementation of the mandates adopted. The recommendations should propose policies and strategies for discussion and adoption by governments or institutions that in some way generate and use vulnerability assessment and indicators.

Vulnerability assessments and indicators are necessary for reducing the impact of natural disasters, both in terms of development actions and emergency preparedness. They are also needed to understand risk as the basis upon which to make investment decisions. The risk arising from the impact of natural disasters may be financial, economic and physical. Vulnerability assessment in the hemisphere has been developed, in theory and practice, to discuss natural hazard vulnerability reduction, taking account of socioeconomic aspects and geographical location. In each case, it is possible to perform at least a preliminary assessment of vulnerability levels and begin to analyze the costs and benefits in financial, economic and physical terms, particularly in relation to reducing threats to life.

Governments are currently considering ways to approach risk reduction in natural disasters as they observe, among other things, increasing human casualties and material losses, and the greater frequency of natural disasters. Another factor is the recognition that low levels of risk and losses due to natural disasters can be turned into a market instrument to attract foreign investment. Moreover, in the near future the development policies of governments will be assessed on the basis of whether they internalize or externalize vulnerability to natural hazards.

Thus, the importance of the task of the Working Group on Vulnerability Assessment and Indexing rests on the following:

  • Member States of the OAS are showing interest in the application of vulnerability assessment mechanisms and indicators in the various OAS forums.
  • The international community, technical cooperation programs and the private sector are constantly increasing their efforts in this area as the observe the potential for development in Member States.
  • Vulnerability assessment and indicators are essential components to improve disaster preparedness and response, as well as the financing of disaster reduction, the other two tasks of the IACNDR.

The VAI is directly accountable to the hemispheric mechanism created by Member States through the IACNDR, as follows:

  • The IACNDR is primarily an effort by the governments of the hemisphere to address the question of natural disasters, integrating it into development policies. The IACNDR, chaired by the Secretary General of the OAS, has direct access to the organization’s Permanent Council.
  • The General Secretariat of the OAS, in response to the mandates of the Santa Cruz Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Bolivia (1996), created the Inter-American Working Group to support Member States in the implementation of an Action Plan that includes disaster reduction. The Inter-American Working Group for the Follow-up of the Santa Cruz Summit in turn created a Working Group for Disaster Reduction in the Context of Development.
  • The Inter-American Commission for Sustainable Development (IACSD) adopted the Inter-American Sustainable Development Program (IASDP), which follows the Action Plan drafted by governments at the Santa Cruz Summit. In addition, the IACSD established a process whereby the General Secretariat of the OAS would inform it periodically of the progress made by different sectors of each Member State in disaster reduction efforts.
  • There are additional hemispheric mandates arising from other summits, councils and action groups.

Actions related to vulnerability assessment and indexing should identify priority populations and components of economic and social infrastructure for the Member States in their national, international and hemispheric contexts. In its first report, the VAI proposed a series of short, medium, and long term actions. Among the short-term actions, the Working Group proposed the following:

  • That immediately after a natural disaster, the Permanent Council of the OAS should, if the Member State so desires, ask the IACNDR to coordinate a multidisciplinary work team. The team, to be financed internationally, would prepare a vulnerability assessment report on the factors that caused the disaster. At the same time, it would propose policies and programs to be implemented.
  • That the OAS General Assembly should declare schools and hospitals as priority infrastructure components, and that these should receive the necessary national and international investment to reduce human casualties. If schools and hospitals happen to be located in a disaster zone, investment should be directed to guarantee the continuity of services and components.

Among medium-term actions, the VAI recommended:

  • That the OAS General Assembly promote multisectoral and multidisciplinary meetings at the hemispheric level, e.g. the Inter-American Commission for Sustainable Development. These meetings would support the development of vulnerability assessment and indexing as part of their agenda.
  • That the OAS General Assembly recommend that social investment funds of Member States be assigned to the preparation of vulnerability assessments and indexing as a necessary step for disaster reduction.
  • That the OAS General Assembly ask Member States to establish mechanisms for the productive sectors to include vulnerability assessment and indexing in their agendas, in order to help reduce the impact of natural disasters.

The long-term recommendation is that the OAS General Assembly call on each sector to create and implement mechanisms through which a certain percentage of investment funds are used to upgrade existing infrastructure in line with the priorities established by vulnerability assessment and indexing processes. Part of these funds should also be set aside for new infrastructure projects that contemplate acceptable levels of risk.

Vulnerability assessment and indexing in response to threats posed by natural disasters is an evolving process that plays an important role in disaster preparedness and response, and in the financing of disaster reduction initiatives.


Natural Disaster Preparedness And Response Working Group – Inter-American Committee For Natural Disaster Reduction

During the first meeting of the Inter-American Committee for Natural Disaster Reduction (IACNDR), the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) established three Working Groups. He invited the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) to chair the Natural Disaster Preparedness and Response Working Group (PRWG).

The first meeting of the Working Group was held under the coordination of PAHO with the active participation of international and Inter-American multilateral agencies, government agencies and non-governmental organizations. It was determined that the objectives of the Working Group would be the following:

  • Supplying the Inter-American Committee for Natural Disaster Reduction (IACNDR) with strategic recommendations for improving the response of the Inter-American System to natural disasters, by strengthening local response to disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean, with the active participation of civil society and the private and public sectors.
  • Improving the quality and usefulness of foreign aid by using standardized tools for the management of humanitarian supplies, carrying out joint field assessments, and disseminating information.
  • Providing advice about mechanisms for coordinating the potential contribution of the Inter-American System to disaster preparedness at the national and international levels, by leveraging the strengths of the various Inter-American agencies.
  • Encouraging good governance and accountability in each country after a disaster strikes.

The basis for the Working Group’s deliberations was Resolution No. 1682 of the OAS General Assembly, of 7 June 1999, about the mechanisms of the OAS for natural disaster reduction. It was decided that training, guidance, and education are the means required to enable the Inter-American System to have a coordinated response to catastrophic events. It is a well-known fact that the OAS System is capable of reaching a great variety of stakeholders and sectors, and the Working Group believes that this capacity should be used to promote disaster prevention, mitigation, and response.

  • The Group advised the Permanent Council and Secretary General to ask the OAS and its member states to study the feasibility of looking for resources and carrying out an Inter-American campaign to educate emergency donors on the correct procedures for making donations and providing humanitarian assistance, in order to reduce the number of unneeded donations.
  • They also recommended that the OAS promote training in disaster relief coordination for the staff of the diplomatic missions accredited to the OAS and the ministries of External Affairs of each member country.
  • The Group proposed that military cooperation in disaster preparedness and response be placed more firmly under civilian leadership. One way of achieving this would be to train the armed forces in civilian humanitarian structures, for instance by incorporating disaster management in the curriculum of the annual course taught by the Inter-American College of Defense.
  • Bearing in mind that there have been many experiences of mutual humanitarian assistance in the region, especially through several subregional agencies such as CDERA and CEPREDENAC, the Working Group recommended to the IACNDR that it document these success stories and promote mutual assistance accords through new or existing subregional institutions or mechanisms, and to verify that these mechanisms include disaster preparedness, joint planning, and training components.
  • Concerning donations after a disaster, the Group concluded that donations in kind, which may be a valuable contribution to development activities, can be inappropriate or counterproductive in emergency situations. Therefore, the OAS should not support the initiative of establishing regional donation warehouses for emergencies containing used, donated or recycled equipment or items.
  • Bearing in mind that there are Donation Guidelines, these should be recognized and endorsed throughout the region. The Group advised the IACNDR to ask the Permanent Council and the General Assembly for their formal endorsement of the World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for Drug Donations, which have global recognition.
  • The Working Group also requested that the issue of transparency and good governance in the management of donations be discussed, and that the Council and Assembly endorse the demand for an integrated management approach such as that provided by SUMA, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the delivery and management of humanitarian assistance.

Participants also suggested that the OAS’ existing information system be improved, particularly to improve its response when a disaster take place. In order to achieve this, they suggested that some form of liaison mechanism be established for the swift exchange of information with other networks in the region, such as the UN System’s ReliefWeb. One of the steps forward so far was the greater rapprochement between the OAS and the United Nations System since the OAS was invited to participate in the first meeting of the Inter-agency Task Force of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), at the end of April 2000. There, the role and mandate of the IACNDR were praised as the only regional forum of its kind. The agencies of the Inter-American System will join the four Working Groups that have been created by the Task Force to deal with early warning systems, risk assessment and vulnerability indicators, the El Niño phenomenon and climate changes, and science, telecommunications and technology.

For more information, please contact:
Dr. Luis Jorge Pérez Calderón
Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Coordination Program (PED-PAHO/WHO)
525 Twenty-third Street, N.W. Washington D.C. 20037