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


Swiss Support for Disaster Prevention in Central America

Risk mapping course sponsored by SDC, July 2000, Matagalpa, Nicaragua

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has maintained a presence in Central America since 1979; to date, it has contributed an average of 30 million dollars a year to various development cooperation programs in the following areas:

  • Water and sanitation.
  • Sustainable agriculture.
  • Support for small and medium-sized businesses.

As a result of Hurricane Mitch, the SDC launched a new line of cooperation through its Humanitarian Assistance (HA) Division and the Swiss Relief Corps. It focused on two key programs: disaster prevention and reconstruction and rehabilitation. The following paragraphs will describe the first program.

The Disaster Prevention in Central America Program (PREVAC) will have a five-year duration (1999-2003) and a budget of approximately three million dollars. Its chief settings have been Nicaragua and Honduras, the two countries hardest hit by Hurricane Mitch, although El Salvador has also been a beneficiary since the 13 January earthquake.

PREVAC is part of a regional and (in the case of Nicaragua) national risk reduction strategy that is aimed at creating and strengthening a culture of prevention. Its guidelines are directly linked to the proposals that came out of the Strategic Framework for Vulnerability and Disaster Reduction in Central America, at the 20th Summit of Presidents of Central America and the Dominican Republic, and the seminar on Building a Culture of Prevention, held in Managua in 1999. At the seminar, policy-making recommendations were issued on institutional strengthening and local capacity building for risk management, as well as on risk assessment as an indispensable criterion for sustainable development planning.

Based on the above, PREVAC’s strategic focus is on contributing to the implementation of a coherent land use management and planning policy that takes natural hazards very much into account.

The program concentrates on three key issues:

  • Capacity building;
  • Raising awareness of natural hazards; and
  • Institutional strengthening.

PREVAC’s risk prevention, mitigation and management efforts strive for synergy between national risk reduction policies and regional attempts to create a culture of prevention.
At the level of the central government, for instance, SDC provides institutional support through the National System for Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Response (SNPMAD) and the various beneficiary institutions. In the technical field, national professionals are provided with the skills needed to incorporate the assessment of natural hazards into their everyday efforts.

The program also helps municipal authorities to have the technical know-how to incorporate risk management into their development planning. Meanwhile, the population benefits from greater awareness of risk and greater knowledge of the measures they can take to mitigate it.

In order to secure the success of PREVAC’s strategy, several projects in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador have been linked to enhance their synergy. The projects underway in Nicaragua include the following:

  • Local Support for Natural Hazard Assessments.
  • Preparations for a Master’s Degree in Risk Management, together with a Nicaraguan university, UNAN.
  • Institutional Support for the National System for Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Response (SNPMAD).

In Honduras, projects include the following:

  • Institutional Support for UNDP in Honduras.
  • Analysis of Hydrologic Risks.

In el Salvador, the projects are:

  • Institutional Support for the Ministry of the Environment.
  • Local Support for Risk Management and Disaster Response.

Yet other projects are in development.

An SDC project: Local Support for Natural Hazard Assessments in Nicaragua

Professionals trained by SDC carrying out natural hazard assessments in Esquipulas, Matagalpa

This project’s objective is to provide municipalities with the technical tools needed to guarantee truly sustainable development by integrating a risk prevention perspective. In order to achieve this aim, efforts are underway to build national capacity so that enough professionals are available to carry out risk assessment and reduction activities and train others in turn.

The two lines of work for this project are training national professionals through specific theoretical and practical courses, and providing direct support to municipalities by carrying out risk assessments employing the national capacity already trained by SDC.

Work was based on a natural hazard assessment methodology suitable to the economic, cultural, social and geological characteristics of the recipient countries. The strategy was applied in four pilot municipalities, one in Honduras and three in Nicaragua. At the same time, efforts were made to disseminate this methodology by training national professionals in risk management.

During the first stage (1999-2000), the following results were obtained:

  • Two methodological instruments were designed for natural hazard assessments: a Guide for Specialists and a Guide for Municipalities. At present, the books are being evaluated by national and international experts with a view to their eventual publication and distribution.
  • Transfer of knowledge was achieved through five courses taught between October 1999 and July 2000 on natural risk management, unstable soils, risk mapping, natural hazard assessments, and applied hydrology. Specialists from the three countries, as well as Costa Rica, participated in the courses. At the end of the courses, several of the alumni provided training in five additional municipalities, employing the new methodology. As a result, five risk maps (on a 1:50,000 scale) and their respective assessments have been produced, including the identification of critical sites and general and specific recommendations on risk management.
  • Alumni include professionals from the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, the Center for Earth Sciences Research of UNAN university, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, the Nicaraguan Water Supply and Sewerage Company, SERNA Honduras, and several municipalities, as well as independent professionals.
  • Nine municipalities in the country now have Natural Hazard Assessments in place. The four pilot municipalities have also incorporated into their development plans and projects the recommendations issued in the final reports.
  • The various participating institutions received a CD-ROM with the chief outputs of the municipal natural hazard assessments, with a geographically cross-referenced database.

During a second stage of the project (2001-2002), the goal is to carry out 16 additional studies in as many municipalities with the assistance of local and international counterparts such as CARE International, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), NICAMBIENTAL and AMUNIC. Work is already underway in two municipalities.

Participatory workshops for develo-ping Prevention and
Mitigation Plans, Municipality of Esquipulas, Matagalpa

Moreover, a total of 21 municipalities (the five from the first phase plus the 16 from the second phase) will be assisted in developing Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Plans, and local governments will be advised on how to integrate these plans effectively into their own strategic development plans. The goal is to organize additional awareness-raising workshops for mayors’ offices.

SDC-trained professionals are already developing the first five Prevention and Mitigation Plans. They are employing a methodology that emerged from a consensus-building workshop involving all stakeholders: the specialists, the League of Municipalities, municipal technicians, and institutions working in the relevant communities.

Participatory workshops, surveys and other resources have been employed to promote the proactive involvement of the community in the development of these plans in order to increase their likelihood of success.

The project also aims to continue strengthening national capacity for risk management. Between 26 February and 17 March 2001, an intensive course on Natural Hazard Management was taught by the professionals who were trained during the first phase of the project, multiplying the skills and knowledge acquired. The same approach will be used in other courses aimed at municipal technicians of the selected municipalities in order to ensure the sustainability of this initiative. Other project components include supporting the strengthening of inter-institutional relations and the development of a national database on natural hazards.

For more information, please contact:
Miriam Downs,