Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
In the Spotlight: Communities
In Natural And Epidemic Disaster Mitigation, Prevention And Preparedness
In Marginal Communities Of Guatemala City
Engineer in Environmental
Ever since Hurricane
Mitch, the Swiss Chapter of Médecins Sans Frontières has redefined its
urban operations policy to focus on both epidemic and natural disaster
mitigation, prevention, and preparedness. Every year, during the rainy
season, landslides and epidemic outbreaks afflict Guatemala City’s marginal
settlements. Considerable resources and energy are spent responding to
emergency situations that could easily be averted if the risk factors
were eliminated or reduced. This paper seeks to share the experiences
of Médecins Sans Frontières in working with Guatemala City’s most vulnerable
and Epidemic Disaster Mitigation,
There can be no doubt that disaster reduction is intimately linked with sustainable development and economic growth. But although sustainable development policies will certainly contribute to reducing the vulnerability of the poorest, the process will be painfully slow and complex, the results long-term. The inhabitants of informal settlements cannot afford to wait. It is therefore necessary to consider short-terms actions and strive for disaster reduction through rapid impact projects aimed at managing environmental risk.
A Rapid Impact Project (RIP) is a project that is implemented over a period of six to 18 months with the goal of achieving the largest possible impact in a short time. To attain this goal it is necessary to concentrate on high-impact activities, eschewing purely complementary actions. The key lies in assessing and strengthening the quality of community participation, deciding on priorities, making sure that actions match these priorities and obtaining high-quality technical advice. A RIP has two main advantages: it makes it possible to solve problems in a short time and it provides the option of developing additional projects in the future, since it involves the following steps that have a longer-term value:
The vulnerability of hillside settlements is directly related to environmental risk factors. Any project must therefore focus on interventions aimed at improving environmental conditions by paying attention to the three essential components of the environment as a whole:
The plan has two components : the community plan and the family plan. The goal is to involve community members and locally active bodies directly in the process of developing and executing the contingency plan. The plan must not concentrate only on emergency response, but also on prevention and mitigation measures that can reduce the impact of a disaster and improve preparedness. Thus, it involves activities to be carried out before, during, and after an emergency. There are two phases, the first aimed at assessing the situation, analyzing the findings and developing a plan of action, and the second focusing on the execution of the plan of action.
Community Education, Training and Information
What To Do in the
Event of an Emergency?
It is necessary to train shelter managers on the proper standards for resettling and organizing the victims. It is important not to overcrowd the shelters in order to prevent epidemics and have a better control of available resources. The families must also be trained on how they must behave to prevent tensions and loss of control. The following issues must be discussed:
behavior in the shelter.
As already noted, measures must be taken at two different levels: that of the community and that of individual families.
In order to mitigate disasters resulting from landslides, activities must be carried out that have a rapid impact and concentrate on the most significant risk factors.
In order to prevent epidemics, the community in general and families in particular must take simple measures. Leaders can collaborate with health centers and other relevant institutions present in the area.
Execution and Strategy
Communities must participate fully in the process by identifying their own needs, choosing the best options, executing the necessary works, carrying out educational and planning activities, and evaluating the project as it unfolds. Project communities are the most vulnerable; their members have suffered disasters in the past, and they are fully aware of existing risks. There is a correlation between the level of vulnerability and the willingness to engage in community participation. Another factor that affects community participation is the age of the community. Families in more recent communities are more motivated to improve themselves; they have squatted in new land in the hope of starting over, and there is a certain dynamism and freshness. The residents of older communities have become accustomed to living in precarious conditions and have a tendency to look at diarrheic diseases as a fact of life. In these circumstances, there is less motivation; attitudinal change will take longer.
It is important to ensure that any intervention is realistic from the point of view of sanitary engineering. The right technical options must be chosen based on costs, the potential impact of an engineering project, and the capacity of the community to execute, operate and maintain the necessary works. As the projects are being carried out in areas where no one else has chosen to build, due to infrastructural difficulties, it is important to have realistic goals: never strive to eliminate risk factors completely, but only to reduce them.
Transfer of Knowledge