Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Partners in action
Risk Management in Colombia
Colombia has been continually affected by natural phenomena which, together with human actions and the existing level of vulnerability of its population, have unleashed a number of disasters. As a result, human lives have been lost and economic, social, and cultural organizations in various regions of the country have been significantly affected. According to the UNDP’s report entitled “Reducing Disaster Risk: A Challenge for Development” (UNDP, 2004), Colombia is a country highly affected by natural phenomena, with more than 11 million inhabitants exposed to drought, earthquakes, floods, and tropical cyclones each year .
For a country that has experienced more than 40 years of armed conflict, risk management tends to be a complicated issue. The relationship between the occurrence of natural phenomena and the presence of this armed conflict is complex, and there are clear reasons why the latter may become a factor of environmental risk.
Illicit crops, normally associated with conflict areas, are modifying the environment and aggravating the threats posed by floods, drought, landslides, and wildfires. Vulnerable populations, such as those internally displaced by the conflict, are often located in high risk-prone areas. In addition, the National Disasters Preparedness and Response System [Sistema Nacional de Prevención y Atención de Desastres – SNPAD] and its local and regional Committees for Disaster Preparedness and Response (CLOPADs) are weak or inexistent in conflict areas. Consequently, situations that should be handled by local governments must instead be managed by regional and national agencies.
The UNDP – SNPAD Project in Colombia
For the reasons described above, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Colombian Administration for Disasters Preparedness and Response have developed a strategy aimed at strengthening the SNPAD at all levels, in order to respond effectively to disaster situations, reduce risk and prevent disasters at the municipal level through the formulation of Local Emergency and Contingency Plans (PLECs). These plans represent a medium- and long- term effort to meet immediate needs, and are linked to the Municipal Development Plans.
This strategy is being developed in three regions of the country that have been identified as critical areas, ravaged by both the armed conflict and disasters. Encompassing 18 municipalities located in 4 different departments, these areas were selected by the respective Regional Committees based on the effects of natural or human-caused phenomena, the presence of armed groups, and the existence of displaced populations.
in Colombia – Natural and
One of the innovations of this project has been to recognize the special problems faced by both relief teams and disaster preparedness coordinators in a country like Colombia. In December 2003, the first national workshop on disasters was held to address the issue of “Disaster Preparedness and Response in Areas of Armed Conflict.” Participants shared their experiences in disaster response, as well as their concerns about maintaining neutrality in order to ensure the safety and security of relief teams
responding to these emergencies. While there have been some national efforts to separate natural disasters from intentional, human-caused disasters, the shortage of personnel at municipal and departmental levels has not allowed this separation to take place. Some participants expressed the need for the national government to understand that disaster response coordinators generally feel obligated to address problems of public order as often as they deal with disasters.
Experience in municipalities has shown that members of natural disaster committees are also members of anti-personnel landmine committees, commissions for the displaced, and almost any other committee within their municipalities. At the same time, relief agencies, such as Civil Defense, the Colombian Red Cross, and fire fighters respond to all types of emergencies in their municipalities, including earthquakes, floods, landmines, or terrorist attacks. In the same manner, other members of disaster committees, such as mayors, municipal council members, health workers, and community representatives, must also respond to all types of threats to the municipality.
Another innovation of this project has been the way in which it responds to communities, enabling local committees to analyze all community-related risks, and promoting greater participation by both leaders and vulnerable populations. According to the methodology applied in many parts of the world, the preparation of Emergency Plans requires the design of risk maps that identify the main threats to the population. It is important to evaluate these threats in order to develop these Contingency Plans and protect the population against the most critical threats.
Given the conflictive situation in Colombia, communities have frequently identified those risks associated with the armed conflict as the major threats they face. Even in communities significantly affected by natural disasters, concerns about the armed conflict are predominant. For a long time, the official policy of the National Disaster System limited its work to the prevention of and response to natural or unintentional human-caused disasters.
In two departments, risk management training sessions have analyzed, for the first time, threats associated with conflict. The table below clearly shows that all the 11 municipalities that have completed their risk maps, identified the armed conflict among its key threats, and 4 of these 11 local governments decided to develop their Contingency Plans focusing on human-caused threats associated with the conflict. It should be pointed out that the identification of threats and concerns, as well as the preparation of Contingency Plans are based on the community’s own analysis.
In each of these 18 municipalities, a training program was developed for members of local disaster committees and other civil and community-based organizations.
The main expected results for the project during the next 7 months are:
or reestablishment of local disaster prevention and response committees
in 18 municipalities
To date, this project has already achieved concrete results. The first workshops for local committees have taken place in 11 of the 18 municipalities involved. The other 7 local governments have already set dates for their workshops, which coincide with the inauguration of new mayors and the preparation of their Municipal Development Plans. This will foster interaction between these mayors and participating communities, as an opportunity to express to them the need to integrate risk management issues into their development plans, and to assign municipal funds for that purpose.
At the departmental level, this project has strengthened the teamwork of local committees to carry out training activities in municipalities. In each department, a team of instructors was trained to ensure the continuation of these training efforts for municipalities after the project concludes.
Another result, which was not foreseen during the project’s planning stages, is the strengthening of alliances between disaster prevention and response professionals and other local and national stakeholders.
This risk management project is one component of the UNDP’s program working in conflict areas in Colombia. Other components include civil society, the Observatory for Landmines, ascribed to the Vice-Presidency of the Republic [Observatorio de Minas de la Vicepresidencia de la República]; the National Report on Human Development, and human rights advocates.
This ongoing work is focused in 3 geographic regions, which means that all projects are working with the same population. This has provided the opportunity to establish alliances and coordinate related activities.
The process of fostering the importance of risk management among local administrations, other institutions and groups will allow for the reduction of risks and disasters, and will ensure that risk management becomes and important aspect of sustainable development strategies, in the midst of the conflict in Colombia.