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


Improving Access to Health and Disaster Information in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador
Dave Paul Zervaas and Stacey Arnesen

Information services are key

Since the last update in this magazine 6 months ago, the Central American Disaster Health Information Network project has continued to make significant progress. At CRID, In San Jose, Costa Rica, the central digital is now fully functional. As of November 2002 more than 1,400 documents have been digitally scanned, processed and indexed, now available as full-text documents online. This digital library has been shared with each of the seven project centers and is available to local and national users through each project’s website. In addition to regularly updating the on-line offerings, CRID also periodically distributes CD collections of this material to the project centers.

The digitizing of information is a good way to make disaster-related information more readily available to thousands of users in the region by dissemination through the internet and other electronic media, such as CD-ROM. Even if many people in Latin America and the Caribbean do not have access to computers or the internet, most local organizations and NGOs do and can aid in the dissemination of disaster-related information and knowledge. Another advantage is the low cost of accessing digitized information by means of information providers’ website.

The growing electronic collections at CRID as well as the in-house digitization capacity have resulted in an increasing demand for related services.

Project Summary

The main objective is to contribute to disaster reduction in the region, particularly in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, through capacity building activities in the area of health and disaster-related information manage-ment. The Strategy is to provide selected information centers in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, with the required knowledge, training and technology resources in order to have sufficient capacities to act as reliable information providers to a host of other users in these countries. This three year project is executed by FundaCRID, based in Costa Rica and funded by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. FundaCRID carries out its activities through the Regional Disaster Information Center (CRID).

Now hundreds of requests are fulfilled by users themselves through the CRID website. In order to provide quick and easy access, CRID has recently installed a simple search option in its “Information Services” website section offering users the chance to search for keywords related to these digitized documents.

In addition to these digitized documents, CRID and all project sites also provide users access to the ‘Desastres’ database, with over 14,000 references to the disaster literature. An excellent and more sophisticated search option is also available through the CRID site that uses the BIREME search engine.

Technical developments and training

Over the past few months several technical improvements were made at CRID and other project sites, including upgrading the Internet connection at CRID. Technical support missions were conducted to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras, as well. During September the project’s third major training session was held in Managua (Nicaragua).

The organization and quality of the course proved a success, as evidenced by the constructive learning environment created.

The objective of the training week was to provide the participating Centers with (new) technological tools for the development of information services and products in disasters and health, and to encourage institutional capacities as a way to guarantee the response to the demand for existing information. Specifically, the training aimed at consolidating knowledge obtained in the first two training courses and focused on acquiring additional capacities in the development of information products, including thesauri and databases, as well basic digitization processes and products. Training was given by CRID, PAHO, NLM and The Center of Health Sciences Information for Latin America and the Caribbean (Bireme). Furthermore, attention was given to promoting skills in social marketing of information products. The Center for Research and Health Studies of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Managua (CIES) graciously served as the host.

A forum with broad participation

One day of the training program was dedicated to a forum on ‘Information management, disaster reduction and sustainable development’. The goal of the forum was to highlight the importance of scientific and technical information relating to disaster reduction and the widespread dissemination of services being created in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador to national and international actors. The forum included participation from governmental organizations, civil society, and a number of local and international organizations. It began with several presentations on the importance of information management for reducing vulnerability to disasters, followed by a round table discussion among all forum participants.

Over 70 people participated in this event and it is expected that new institutional synergies will evolve and promote collaboration between some of the key actors in the disaster prevention arena. The forum was hosted by the Center for Research and Health Studies of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (CIES), Managua.

Who promotes all these activities?

The Regional Disaster Information Center for Latin America and the Caribbean (CRID) implements this project through 7 information centers in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The US National Library of Medicine (NLM) is the main contributor, whilst PAHO and ISDR also provide significant resources, both financial and technical.

Associated centers are becoming important disaster information resources

The 7 associated centers in three countries have benefited in many ways from the project. They are increasingly being used by local and sub-regional institutional and individual users for providing information on disasters. But the centers do not only respond to a growing information demand, they also are taking a proactive role in reaching out to their communities to promote a disaster prevention culture. In Honduras, both centers have recently organized several training events to local organizations and NGOs in order to help them build better capacities in the use of internet resources. Additionally, the information center in San Pedro Sula is targeted to become the main coordinator of disaster related information for Northern Honduras.

In Nicaragua, training courses are also being offered by the centers and a database containing digitized documents is freely available on the internet, making it much easier for local emergency committees and others to obtain key information.

In April 2002, El Salvador was officially added to the project. During the past six months much progress has been made already. Two of the three centers are already online and the third will follow soon. One of them, the Center for Protection against Disasters, an NGO specialized in disaster management with important community outreach programs, has been able to greatly improve their information dissemination to remote areas, thanks to the project.

Without a doubt the project is helping the sub-region to become more self-sufficient in promoting a disaster prevention culture through a better use of a variety of disaster-related information.

The project has also helped the centers to mobilize additional resources

Work done within the framework of the project has proven successful in other ways, too. As the centers are increasingly being recognized for their important role in disaster prevention, some of them have been able to attract additional resources. For example, this project served as a catalyst to modernize the libraries at both the medical school of the National Autonomous University of Honduras and the Central University of the North Region. Both of these libraries now have multiple computers with Internet access to serve their communities. In addition, the UNAH medical school library now provides access to over 2,000 full-text journals online via the World Health Organization’s Health Internet Access to Research Initiative (HINARI).

Dave Paul Zervaas
CRID General Coordinator,

Stacey Arnesen
Project Manager, Specialized Services Division, NLM