Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Access to Health and Disaster Information
The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean as a region vie for the unfortunate distinction of having the greatest exposure to disasters of all regions in the world. Between 1971 and 1995, 1,824 disasters were recorded in the Americas, of which 1,246 were produced from natural phenomena, and 578 the result of unnatural causes. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused severe damage in Central America, especially in Honduras and Nicaragua, the countries selected as the primary beneficiaries of the CRID/NLM project.
Natural phenomena such as hurricane Mitch clearly cause enormous suffering. The human cost is in terms of the number of deaths and injured. There is also serious deprivation in terms of health care and related services such as food supply, drinking water, housing, and environmental sanitation. During the aforementioned twenty-five year period, the annual average mortality rate in the region was 8,956, while 3,781,314 were injured or otherwise affected.1
Mitch made apparent,
again, the need for a multisectoral approach to disaster reduction. Coordinating
an approach to disaster reduction that includes all relevant sectors requires
timely availability of reliable information from many and varied sources.
The ability to collect, manage, disseminate and exchange information is
essential and steps must be taken to ensure the high level capacity of
human and technological infrastructure. For example, information is needed
in the areas of detection and description of hazards, the design of early
warning and response systems, community education, health management in
disaster situations, coordination of the agencies involved in disaster
management activities, and damage assessment required to bring about rehabilitation
in various sectors.
It is also the case that because of inadequate access to information technology, lack of training in how to find and manage information and lack of awareness of what information is available communities and local authorities are frequently uninformed about health issues important to their well being.
In an effort to address
these issues, NLM has developed this project with PAHO and ISDR and has
awarded a contract to FundaCRID, a non-governmental foundation, whose
mission is to promote a culture of disaster prevention in Latin
America and the Caribbean in support to the Regional Disaster Information
Center CRID. To accomplish its mission, CRID develops and supports activities
that have a direct effect on the improvement of scientific and technical
information related to disaster management.
broad objective of this partnership is to contribute to disaster reduction
in the Region. Not only will this positively affect health by providing
access to timely and accurate health information, it will also, over time,
contribute to economic growth and social development.
With a view to sustaining these activities in the future, the project has selected university libraries in these two countries as priority centers to gather and disseminate technical and scientific disaster and health information. In addition to the CRID center in Costa Rica, the four partner sites in Honduras and Nicaragua are:
These centers will be strengthened in three areas:
Because these information services will be provided and accessed through the Internet, there will be other important benefits for the two target countries and others:
The project partners expect that broad distribution of existing information on disaster management in Honduras and Nicaragua will be achieved through the execution of these activities.
Who will benefit from the project?
During this project the dissemination and distribution of information will be channeled through Centro Regional de Información Sobre Desastres (CRID), located in San Jose, Costa Rica, which was created for this purpose in May 1997. Its organization was based on the structure and experiences of the Disaster Documentation Center, which was initiated by PAHO/WHO in 1990. CRID is convened by ISDR (before IDNDR).
CRIDs mission is to promote the development of a prevention culture in the Latin American and Caribbean countries, through the compilation and dissemination of disaster-related information, and the promotion of co-operative efforts to improve risk management in the Region. It is located in the facilities of the National Emergency Commission (CNE) of Costa Rica and today has six partners2.
Since its creation, CRID has collected important technical information on emergencies and disasters available in Latin America and the Caribbean, and has made great efforts in disseminating and distributing this information so that it is accessible to the thousands of interested users in the Region. Taking advantage of, and strengthening the existing CRID infrastructure and experience to support Honduras and Nicaraguas libraries and information centers would avoid duplication of efforts, save resources and indirectly benefit the other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The National Library
of Medicine (NLM), on the campus of the National Institutes of Health
in Bethesda, Maryland, is the worlds largest medical library. The
Library collects materials in all areas of biomedicine and health care,
as well as works on biomedical aspects of technology, the humanities,
and the physical, life, and social sciences. The Specialized Information
Services (SIS) Division of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) is responsible
for information coverage and services for several areas, including toxicology
and environmental health, AIDS, and outreach to special populations.
For more than 20 years, the Pan American Health Organizations Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Coordination Program has contributed to improving access to technical and scientific information on disasters in all the countries of the Region. PAHO is represented in each country of the Region, and its technical staff collaborates closely with national authorities in technical cooperation activities. This project will greatly advance PAHOs ongoing efforts to strengthen health and disaster information management.
Project Manager, National Library of Medicine Division of Specialized
1 International Federation for Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, World Disaster Report, 1997, Oxford: 1998.