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

Socios en Acción


Regional Workshop: Risk Reduction in Human
Settlements in Central America and the Caribbean

The number of disasters caused by hydrometeorological phenomena in the Caribbean basin has grown twofold since 1996. The vulnerability of human settlements has also been increasing, mainly due to an accelerated but ill-planned process of urbanization and the inequitable distribution of wealth, leading to the rapid growth of informal settlements in hazard-prone locations.

Natural disasters affect the poor most severely, both in rural and urban areas—but demographic densities are of course greater in urban areas. In Central America, half the population dwell in cities, and it is estimated that between half and 60 percent live in poverty. However, the impact is hardest on the most marginalized: women, children, the elderly, the disabled, and those excluded for ethnic or cultural reasons. These are the social groups most vulnerable to natural disasters.

The many efforts by individual countries and the international community to lower vulnerability have not yet effectively reached the local level: the municipal governments and community organizations that are inevitably at the vanguard of response and reconstruction in the event of a disaster.

With a view to assessing the current situation in this field and supporting the establishment of programmes to alleviate the causes of vulnerability, the UN Programme for Human Settlements (UN-Habitat) organized a set of consultations titled Local Management and Risk Reduction in Human Settlements in the Caribbean Basin, which culminated in a regional meeting that was held in Havana, Cuba, on 17-19 September 2002.

The event was organized by UN-Habitat’s Risk and Disaster Management Programme (RDMP) in collaboration with its Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC). UN-Habitat is the United Nations body that specializes in housing, human settlements and local governance. It has launched a campaign to assist national and local governments in improving local vulnerability reduction systems as an integral part of local development.

Consultation participants agreed on priority areas for risk and vulnerability reduction at the local level, particularly in human settlements. They defined the key elements of a regional cooperation programme in this field, and devised a follow-up strategy for its implementation. The strategy focuses on the promotion of cooperation among regional and international bodies, national and local governments, and community organizations. After discovering that a veritable host of regional bodies and initiatives are involved in disaster reduction, participants became convinced of the urgent need to conjoin all these efforts in order to exploit the enormous potential synergy between them.

Sponsors of the regional consultations included the Cuban government, the inter-agency secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), and the Assembly of Ministers and Senior Authorities in the Housing and Urbanization Sector of Latin America and the Caribbean, also known as the Ibero-American Housing and Urbanization Forum (MINURVI).

Among the participants were representatives of civil society, sectoral government bodies, civil defence organizations, and municipal governments from Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, as well as regional and international organizations dealing with disasters, local governance, and foreign aid.

MINURVI, which held its own meeting on 16-18 October in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, underscored the importance of the regional consultations and agreed to join UN-Habitat and its Regional Office’s efforts to design a proposal for a regional cooperation programme on the local risk management of human settlements.

The production and implementation of this proposal is one of the priority tasks of the Regional Action Plan that was approved in Havana to confront the growing vulnerability of society to devastating hydrometeorological phenomena.