International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Meetings & conferences on disaster reduction



Countering Disasters: Targeting Vulnerability

It is a paradox that, at a time when such an extraordinary effort is underway to elevate the sophistication, safety, and comfort of our societies, our vulnerability to natural hazards is, in fact, constantly increasing. With our current development patterns, more and more people and assets are concentrating in hazard-prone areas such as floodplains, unstable slopes, coastal cities, and river deltas. The accelerated growth of populations and urban centres, environmental degradation and poverty, make our societies more fragile, more vulnerable, and less able to confront the forces of nature.

Vulnerability is the result of an accumulation of various factors and circumstances. For example, the vulnerability of human settlements to natural hazards depends mostly on the ability of physical infrastructure to withstand the hazards to which it is exposed. Social factors can also contribute to increases in vulnerability: people living in the same city can be affected differently by the same hazard. Experience has shown that people with different income levels are likely to be affected differently by the same event. An individual’s vulnerability to disaster tends to lessen the more money he or she makes. Access to information is another factor determining the degree of vulnerability: improvements in this area, particularly a greater awareness of existing risks and how to avoid or reduce them, can significantly decrease an individual’s vulnerability to prevailing hazards.

Vulnerability reduction strategies include measures such as limiting development and avoiding new construction in hazard-prone areas. Adequate early warning systems that are accessible and understood by all levels of the population, construction of hazard-resistant buildings, and increased knowledge and awareness of disaster reduction issues among all sectors of society, are other strategies that can reap significant benefits.

All this, however, is not enough. As United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has stated,

“Building a culture of prevention is not easy. While the costs of prevention have to be paid in the present, its benefits lie in the distant future. Moreover, the benefits are not tangible: the disasters that did not happen.”

This is often the underlying reason many governments are unwilling to invest in prevention and vulnerability reduction measures. Changing this attitude requires long-term thinking, since it is in the long run that prevention can save money—and, more importantly, reduce human suffering, something that cannot be replaced by humanitarian aid no matter how generous.

The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) is dedicated in promoting the concept of vulnerability reduction. The slogan of this year’s world disaster reduction campaign is “Countering Disasters, Targeting Vulnerability”. The ISDR Secretariat encourages your active involvement in the campaign through the organization of local activities and your participation in the risk mapping contests. (See pages 6-9, for more information on the campaign as well as guidelines for local activities)

This issue of ISDR Informs also has a section on one of the sub-themes of the campaign: Mobilizing Local Communities for Disaster Reduction. It includes a set of articles on different experiences in disaster reduction initiatives at the local level, as well as guidelines for the elaboration of community risk maps.

We hope you enjoy this issue. Any comments and suggestions are welcome, particularly those that can help us improve the magazine.

For more information, please contact the ISDR Unit for Latin America and the Caribbean

or visit the following websites:

A New Director for the ISDR Secretariat!

The ISDR Secretariat, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is pleased to announce the appointment of its new Director, Mr. Salvano Briseño. Mr. Briseño is a Venezuelan lawyer. Since 1978, he has held various senior management positions at the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (MARNR) of his country, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and, since 1987, the United Nations. Mr. Briseño’s professional career has focused on public policy issues and the management of international programs in the various areas of sustainable development.