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


Risk assesment: the fist step

A previous study and a risk assessment represent the first step of the cycle for disaster reduction. These are essential elements for planning measures and taking actions in the event of a catastrophe, and for developing an adequate risk management. A risk assessment also represents a rigorous study in which various sciences converge, through the analysis the climatic, geological, political and social characteristics of a given territory. The study must be updated on a regular basis to incorporate emerging situations, new experiences and investments, and even scientific and technical discoveries. It is important to count with the direct participation of institutions, bodies and communities located in the regions studied in the aforementioned research processes. It would be ideal if these organizations and communities utilized the scientific potential of their professionals.

The report of the study that concludes with a risk assessment is not an operational document due to the volume of data and information included. Therefore it is necessary to provide the document with an instrument with content that contributes to its functionality. Undoubtedly, this instrument would be the risk maps that include large amounts of information and show practical possibilities. In addition, these maps can be digitized which makes the inclusion of more data very simple.     

Small communities, especially the isolated ones, do not have many resources to carry out these studies. They need practical and prompt research based upon their past experiences to prevent potential hazards. This research may be conducted by capable and trained leaders.

The study that concludes with a risk assessment does not apply a rigid methodology because it must cater to possibilities and own characteristics of the area studied. However, there are certain elements that this study should include:

  An analysis of past experiences regarding disaster situations in

    the region;

  An analysis of all hazards faced in the region;

  An analysis of the level of vulnerability associated with each

    hazard identified, focusing on risk areas and indicating safe

    areas or at least those with lower levels of vulnerability;

  An analysis of internal mechanisms (plans, measures and

    actions established in the event of disasters, compatibility and

    consistency processes, etc.); and

  The development of risk maps accompanied, if possible, by

    databases describing the communities and entities located in

     he territories studied, and classified according to their level of


The analysis of past experiences regarding disaster situations in the region assessed allow us to identify hazards that could have greater or lesser impact. It also contributes with actual experiences based upon the behavior that should or should not be followed. In addition, it allows for the evaluation of both successes and failures, taking into account when these events happened as well as the economic, political and social conditions of that time or historical period, etc. This analysis, therefore, must not be conducted as a mere chronological account of facts, but as an in-depth study of the context in which these events took place, their impact and the actions of both the communities and the government to cope with them.

The analysis of all hazards faced in the region represents an external element of the risk assessment and it should be carefully conducted in order to take into account latent hazards. Despite the fact that these potential hazards have never caused a disaster situation in the communities assessed, they still exist and, therefore, we should be careful so that   conditions favorable for their occurrence do not arise, and be prepared with adequate actions in case they do occur.

The analysis of the level of vulnerability associated with each hazard identified is the internal element that composes a risk assessment. It is important to identify each hazard, as well as to differentiate the level of vulnerability by region in the different areas exposed to these hazards. This is undoubtedly the key point in a process of risk assessment and the element that requires more resources and efforts due to its scientific rigor and the amount of information that must be analyzed.

The analysis of internal mechanisms is also an essential part that contributes to increasing or decreasing the level of vulnerability in communities, entities, regions, countries, etc. This is due to the fact that it is an indicator of the importance that governments, institutions and non-governmental organizations give to such a sensitive problem in the region assessed. These mechanisms represent an fruitful investment because the measures taken for disaster reduction are a way to contribute to sustainable development in these communities and to prepare them to live with the risk with which they cope due to investment and urban development processes, among others. The analysis includes the review of plans already in place for disaster situations, as well as related compatibility and consistency processes. The analysis should make suggestions of subject areas for risk management projects, include the legislation in force with respect to those issues, and examine other aspects of the situation that will depend upon the characteristics of each region.

The development of risk maps or sketches offers an operational document that supplements existing action plans in the event of a catastrophe. Data of interest gathered during the study is included in such maps and, if possible, this should be compiled in an additional data base. The way these maps are prepared is determined by the characteristics of the area studied, existing economic possibilities and the decision of the specialist or person in charge of preparing them. Regardless of who prepares them, they should be developed as thematic maps that include each of the hazards identified.

For more information please contact:
Yosbanis Roque
Filial   de Ciencias   Médicas "Lidia Doce Sánchez", Cuba