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

Disasters and hazards in the Region


A universal philosophy of solidarity in the event of disasters

In May 2005, approximately 1,100 offices of the Red Cross throughout Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, agreed to take on the challenge of promoting an internal dialogue to determine how to have a greater impact on those communities that cope with a high level of vulnerability, as well as to develop a comprehensive approach that contributes to disaster risk reduction.

This new challenge is the result of the decisions made in 2003 by the Red Cross offices of the Americas which also represents the development of new initiatives on the part of the Secretariat of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, through their Regional Delegation for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. These new initiatives are increasingly becoming positive experiences and good practices worth describing and sharing.

In order to promote the experiences acquired in Mexico and Central America, the International Federation of the Red Cross put together a regional initiative which complements the actions that Red Cross offices undertake throughout the region. By addressing local actions from a global perspective, the primary goal of these initiatives is to facilitate the management of tools, methodologies and processes in the field of disaster reduction.

The following are the first practical results of the initiatives that are currently being implemented:


  ·The Reference Center for Disaster Community Education in

   Costa Rica; and,

  ·The Reference Center for Disaster Preparedness in El


Both regional centers are located in Red Cross offices and are being managed by Red Cross personnel in their corresponding country. These centers are operated under the guidance of a universal philosophy of solidarity implemented by a movement for mutual support to the National Red Cross Societies in the region. The centers draw on the knowledge and experiences of other Red Cross offices, and foster processes for harmonizing a number of procedures throughout the region. Both centers are an initiative of the International Federation of the Red Cross, which is responsible for providing the technical support needed for their implementation.

Thanks to the contributions of the Reference Center for Disaster Community Education and the support of Red Cross offices, the Red Cross' program for disaster community education has been strengthened. A significant level of progress has been reached since the beginning of this initiative and four strategic points have been coordinated and linked in the region. These are:

  ·Community disaster education programs for education centers;

  ·Family-focused programs;

  ·Community-focused programs; and,

  ·Programs intended for small enterprises.

During 2004, the strategic plan focused on the creation of this Center, as well as on the preparation and validation of educational material. Approximately, 52 validation processes were carried out throughout the region, with the contributions of National Red Cross Societies in Mexico and Central America.   In addition, the Regional Delegation of the International Federation of the Red Cross provided technical support to the preparation of the abovementioned educational material.

In 2005, the Reference Center for Community Disaster Education, with headquarters located in the offices of the Costa Rican Red Cross, took on a more active leadership role concerning community disaster education. Its purpose is to support the National Red Cross Societies in Mexico and Central America. With that goal in mind, the Center focuses on:

  1. Ensuring the creation of a strong base of Red Cross

      facilitators in each country of the region and for each of the

      modules produced;

  2. Promoting the exchange of experiences and best practices,

      as well as fostering internships to ensure the learning of the

      participatory methodology advanced by the International

      Federation of the Red Cross for each module;

  3. Devoting efforts to systematize regional experiences, as well  

      as to develop interactive modules for groups with access to

      virtual technology;

  4. Strengthening the regional knowledge of best practices

      regarding low-cost early warning that have proven to be

      successful at the community level;

  5. Broadening the knowledge of best practices in terms of

      community approaches to livelihoods and their link to

      disaster reduction; and,

   6. Expanding the group of strategic partners so that the

      Reference Center is able to grow in a harmonious manner

      throughout the region.

As a cross-cutting issue of the training processes, the use of tools for vulnerability and capacity analysis (VCA) is being promoted. These tools can be adjusted to the particular types of vulnerability and risks identified.

Furthermore, the Regional Delegation of the International Federation of the Red Cross is currently promoting the inclusion of six cross-cutting issues in community disaster education and preparedness programs, as well as integrating a gender approach:

   1. Early warning;

   2. Identification of micro-projects for risk reduction;

   3. A VCA approach;

   4. A focus on livelihoods;

   5. Community response and emergency plans; and,

   6. First-response and risk reduction community brigades.

Community activities intended for indigenous populations continue to be implemented through National Red Cross Societies. Also, through its Regional Delegation based in Panama, the International Federation continues to support the adaptation of a number of materials, such as the Community First Aids Guide, which is being translated into two Mayan languages and adapted to the Mayan philosophy.   In addition to the work done during 2004, a second adaptation of "Riskland" to the Mayan philosophy is currently in progress. This adaptation will include a translation into another indigenous language.

Given that the International Federation is promoting this initiative, the Regional Reference Center in Costa Rica will be able to systematize lessons learned on the methodological and educational approach to community risk and disaster reduction management. This will be done within a cultural and linguistic context that takes into consideration the customs, philosophy and tradition of indigenous peoples.

Finally, it is expected that, by 2007, the Reference Center for Community Disaster Education will have gained significant experience to develop a more comprehensive strategy related to its approach to community disaster education and preparedness for urban areas and megacities. This learning process will be used as the basis for future actions in the field of disaster mitigation and preparedness.

Regarding the Regional Reference Center for Disaster Preparedness, which was created recently and is based in El Salvador, its primary goal is contribute to harmonizing a disaster preparedness system among the National Red Cross Societies in Mexico and Central America. Thus, the Center will ensure that national approaches are in line with the regional and global systems.

The Regional Reference Center for Disaster Preparedness, in close collaboration with the Secretariat of the International Federation of the Red Cross through its Regional Delegation in Panama, is utilizing both human resources and the experiences gained in other countries of the regions and National Red Cross Societies, in order to:

Strengthen the Red Cross National Disaster Intervention Teams (NDIT). To that end, the Regional Center is currently contributing to:

   1. Incorporating the concept of National Disaster Intervention

       Teams into the development plans and strategies of the

       national societies;

   2. Designing a regional model to support the professional

       development and strengthening of the human resources that

       compose the emergency response systems (NDIT) of the

       National Red Cross Societies;

   3. Promoting a process of adaptation and systematization of

       standardized operating procedures under the vision of  

        "going   from local to national, and from national to global";

   4. Developing basic training manuals for NDIT courses;

    5. Promoting internships at the Regional Reference Center for

        Disaster Preparedness, in order to obtain contributions from

       and make use of the experience gained by other national

       societies in the region, and for these societies to be able to

       learn about the advances of the Center; and,

   6. Foster the exchange of NDIT in the event of minor

       emergencies that do not require an international relief

       operation. These exchanges would serve as the basis for

       strengthening mutual support with the national societies of

       neighboring countries.

As an essential part of the actions taken for strengthening these national response teams, the Regional Reference Center for Disaster Preparedness will continuously further an approach that promotes equal participation in terms of ethnic groups and gender, and takes into account the specific considerations for people with special needs.

Further the development and implementation of national preparedness, emergency and contingency plans. To that end, and in compliance with the guidelines agreed upon within the Secretariat of the International Federation, the Regional Reference Center for Disaster Preparedness will support the National Red Cross Societies as they develop their own plans. The Reference Center will also make efforts to ensure the existence of common rules and procedures that guarantee the following:

  1. The identification of the main causes of disasters in the

     region and in each country;

  2. The identification and subsequent analysis of the main

       hazards to which each country is exposed;

  3. The analysis of the potential impact produced by these

      hazards in each country;

  4. The analysis of institutional mandates for the fulfillment of

      actions taken in the field of disaster reduction;

  5. Information about practical considerations that go from the   

      local to the national level;

  6. The implementation of designs and models of national and

      community early warning and activation systems;

  7. The design and management of Emergency Operation

      Centers (EOCs), which will be adapted to the particular

      characteristics of each national society;

  8. The implementation of domestic and external coordination


  9. The systematization of guidelines for developing a number

       of plans (for emergency, disaster and contingency situations,

      among others) after identifying the main hazards in these


Strengthen the EOCs. In order to develop and implement the Red Cross' Emergency Operation Centers (EOCs), the Regional Reference Center for Disaster Preparedness will provide support to the national societies of the region in the creation of these centers, taking into account the particular situation of each individual Red Cross office. The Reference Center will make efforts to create simple, effective and functional EOCs. With that goal in mind, it is expected that:

  1. Standard operating procedures for the EOCs will be

      developed in consultation with each national society;

  2.   An emergency plan will be included within these procedures

       for national EOCs that are not able to function due to damage

      caused by a disaster to their infrastructure;

  3. Training methodologies and materials will be developed

      regarding the operation of Red Cross' EOCs; and,

  4. There are enough facilitators in the region to facilitate the

      implementation of training processes in each country.

For more information please contact:
Xavier Castrellanos
Regional Delegation, International Federation of the Red Cross