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


International Symposium in Tijuana, Mexico, and San Jose, California, concludes initial phase of the UNESCO Program for Disaster Reduction in Asia, Latin America, and the CaribbeanBackground

Rapid, poorly planned urban growth increases risk to natural disasters. Informal construction and settlements, lack of enforcement of appropriate codes and regulations for both structures and infrastructure, uncontrolled use of soils and unplanned location of social and economic activities contribute to the steep increase of the urban physical and social vulnerabilities to natural hazards, especially in developing countries. Currently, over 90% of population growth in developing countries is in cities and, according to World Bank estimates, one third of people in developing countries living in cities, live in slum/squatter settlements. Recent deadly catastrophes are evidence that urban risk is increasing rapidly, especially in developing countries, and that the risk increase is mainly the result of the rapid and unplanned growth of urban areas.

There is a close linkage between development and disasters. Poverty results in social and physical vulnerability to disasters, which is made evident by the fact that in any given natural disaster the most affected are always the poorest sectors of the society. In the same way, disasters generate and perpetuate poverty by causing huge financial losses and destroying infrastructure. In Bangladesh, for example, just one flood destroyed 15,000 km of roads, 14,000 schools, and caused US$ 500 million in damage to rice crops. There is, therefore, a vicious circle of poverty causing increasing vulnerability to natural disasters and disasters causing increasing poverty. Thus, any initiative that reduces poverty will reduce the effect of disasters and any action to mitigate the impact of disasters will help to reduce poverty and promote development. From this perspective, it is only logical, therefore, for risk reduction to be an integral part of public policy, urban planning, and development processes. That was the main objective of this initiative.

One of the end products of this project was recommendations to the local governments on normative actions that should be undertaken in terms of urban planning and citizen empowerment in order to enhance disaster reduction and, in this way, protect development.

Initiative’s goal

The goal of this initiative is to promote and protect development and reduce poverty by reducing the losses caused by natural disasters through the incorporation of risk management in urban planning and development processes. In its initial phase, the project focused on the following participant cities: Antofagasta, Chile; Dehradun, India; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Tijuana, Mexico.

Main tasks

To achieve its goal, the initiative worked in close collaboration with local authorities, experts, and institutions of the participating cities to complete the following specific tasks:

• Evaluation of the existing development plans and determination of their potential impact on the level of urban earthquake risk

• Determination of growth tendencies (demographic, economic) in each participating city and utilization of those tendencies to estimate future earthquake risk if urban growth continues with the current characteristics (without risk management considerations)

• Identification of feasible, effective mitigation options for each participating city. Implementation of cost-benefit analyzes to determine the most efficient activities for each particular city.

Main activities

The initiative implemented the following activities in each of the participating cities:

Local training. Earthquake damage assessment tools were installed in the computer systems of the urban planning departments of the participating cities and training was provided to local leaders and experts in the use and application of these tools.

Risk assessment. Simplified earthquake scenarios were prepared for different conditions (i.e. several plausible earthquakes, different building occupancy instances -- e.g. day and night occupancies). Current local growth tendencies were considered to prepare simplified earthquake scenarios for future conditions and, in this way, obtain a clear understanding of future risk before it happens and be in the position to avoid it.

Planning. Based on the understanding of future risk, possible risk reduction measures were identified and tested. Simplified cost-benefit analyzes were performed to identify the most effective mitigation options and incorporate them into the cities’ development plans.

Information exchange. Throughout the project, the working groups, authorities, and institutions of all the participating cities interacted with each other in order to exchange experiences, share best practices, and generate knowledge and risk reduction solutions.

Public awareness. Committed efforts were made to raise awareness, both at the local and international levels, of the existing risk and the availability of affordable solutions. These efforts included, among other things, involving representatives of the various sectors of the community, implementing public workshops to present the project finding and results to the community and get feedback, and interacting with the mass media to keep the community properly informed.

Results and products

The products of this initiative included, among others, the following ones:

• Better understanding of the cities earthquake risk by local authorities, institutions and the general public.

• Sound development plans for the participant cities that prop erly include urban risk considerations and are designed to keep future risk at acceptable levels.

• Increased local capacity. All the work was done by local people and institutions ensuring, in this way, an effective transfer of technology and methodologies brought by the initiative.

• A set of urban planning mitigation options that have been tailored for the particular needs and implementation capacity of each city. These mitigation options included preliminary cost estimates and recommendations on implementation strategies.
• Increased public awareness. The active participation of city institutions and representatives of the various sectors of the community throughout the project facilitated transfer of ownership of the problem and its proposed solutions to the
local communities.

FinaI international symposium

In order to draw final lessons from the project, a final symposium was held on 19-22 January 2004, in Tijuana, Mexico and San José, California that allowed city representatives to report on their results, share their experiences, and discuss next steps. Specifically, the symposium facilitated the following:

• Presentation, discussion, and evaluation of work carried out by each participating city
• Exchange of experiences among cities
• Discussion of the application and implementation of the project’s results and recommendations to urban planning and public policy in each of the cities
• Direct interaction of city representatives, international experts, and potential funders
• Generation of ideas for potential collaboration opportunities and preparation for a potential longer-term initiative

Approximately one hundred and ten participants from around the world attended the final symposium, which was co-organized by UNESCO and the Municipality of Tijuana with the administrative assistance of the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education of Ensenada (CICESE). The participants included school children from the participating cities who presented the results of demonstration projects that were implemented to promote the creation of a culture of prevention.

The meeting participants engaged in active discussions during group working sessions based on the results and findings presented by the city representatives. As a result, the Final Symposium event produced specific recommendations on ways to incorporate risk reduction considerations into the city development plans and on necessary actions to establish a culture of prevention and long-term planning, especially in developing countries.

The working groups produced recommendations on four vital aspects of urban risk reduction processes:
• Vulnerability reduction of buildings, infrastructure and services
• Political, institutional, and legal frameworks
• Financing of these processes
• Public awareness and education

Details on the project implementation, its results and the produced recommendations are included in the project’s final report that is being published and will be distributed by the United Nations through its missions worldwide.

For more information, please contact:
Dr. Carlos Villacís, M.P.A.,
Project Coordinator
UNESCO/ISDR Consultant
Tel: (1-650) 967-3667
Fax: (1-253) 679-8397
Ms. Cynthia Cardona
UNESCO Consultant
Tel: (1- 408) 251-4042