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 management promoting groups: a strategy for incorporating civil society into national platforms for disaster risk reduction in developing countries


Undoubtedly, events that cause disasters have increased in recent years.   A number of well-founded studies and research have confirmed this fact. Even more worrisome is the trend of new disasters that will occur in the following years, as well as their impacts on human life, the environment and the economies of developing or emerging countries. It is estimated that by the year 2050 the cost of natural disasters will exceed the amount of US$300 billion each year (UNISDR, 2001).

In addition, in many cases existing vulnerability is not assessed in a comprehensive manner and, given its high degree of short-term variability, it is only studied through projections. Likewise, modern lifestyles make risk perception and our "collective memory" of past warning signs nonexistent, fragile or in process of being forgotten.

Undoubtedly,   the most important achievements of the last decade have been the recognition that disasters are "part of an inadequate development planning" and the incorporation of development actors into disaster risk reduction management, as it should have been years ago.   This has involved some necessary adjustments of institutions responsible for civil protection and safety.   However, this approach is in its initial stage and, hence, faces a number of limitations that must be overcome in this decade.

In the face of these future scenarios, how should those who take on the responsibility of reducing disaster risks get involved? This should not only include governments but also international cooperation agencies, financial institutions and other sectors in order to seek a greater level of commitment to action on the part of civil society. These sectors are not only made up of the authorities, but also men and women who must cope with risks on a daily basis, in addition to structural problems and increasingly dynamic pressures.

Kobe and the existing challenges

The World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) certainly achieved its goals. Those of us who participated could see that only few local actors were present. However, we could also see that there were many spaces where the message of these actors was conveyed, such as the statement signed by more than one hundred national institutions from Latin America, which contributed to the outcomes of the Hyogo Conference.

The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters, provides us with a number of actions and, as such, we should promote its dissemination. Contingent on local capacities, we should also structure an action plan for civil society to be included in this commitment during the next decade. This action plan should be linked and coordinated at national, regional and international levels.

The Hyogo Framework for Action must also be implemented at the local level to get the greatest possible number of local agents involved. This will help generate initiatives and prevent the Framework from guiding activities only at national and regional levels. We could therefore facilitate the linkage of processes at the national level with those developed at the local level to generate greater opportunities for change. If we observe the way processes related to disaster risk reduction are generated, we will see that although efforts are made at three different levels, it is at the local level where this issue has been developed the most, despite their limitations.

Civil society probably does not yet have enough spaces at national, regional and local levels to advance the conduction of analysis and the formulation of proposals related to risk reduction for development, which could be integrated into efforts to influence decision-making processes. For this reason, it is imperative to facilitate the strengthening of such spaces for local, regional and national societies, with the purpose of integrating them into a number of initiatives, such as the National Platforms for Disaster Reduction, advanced by the UN/ISDR.

Risk management promoting groups: spaces for reflection and for civil society proposals

In Latin America, we have been experiencing very important changes in terms of local actors who are organizing themselves around social, economic, cultural and political issues, and to demand respect for their rights and human dignity when these are threatened. In each country, different forms of this type of organization are observed: national organizations, forums, coordinating groups, networks and models developed in response to various and relevant cross-cutting issues. These organizations are aimed at guaranteeing that the voices of local actors and minorities traditionally excluded are heard and adequately integrated into political decisions.

With this trend in mind, the question that arises is how to achieve the creation of a space for national civil society organizations with a common link to the work to be done in the field of disaster risk reduction, without wasting another initiative that emerges but comes to an end before achieving significant changes in a given country, or is closed to all but a particular interest group. The following are some ideas that we wish to share and that may be modified depending on the context. These ideas are intended to facilitate national processes while taking into account local experiences and allowing for the incorporation of disaster risk reduction into investment and development activities for the most vulnerable communities. These ideas are also aimed at providing support to actions that could influence the modification of policies and practices that may reduce risk reduction in order to achieve development.

Along these lines, it is necessary that this promoting space be initially made up of national non-governmental organizations and other civil society institutions working on local and human development. Subsequently, other actors and organizations may be incorporated as well. These may include social, educational, scientific and economic actors, among others.

Some of the general activities that may be proposed from this "space" are:

  Foster capacity building in order to establish a national

     conceptual scheme and involve local, regional and national


  Create local spaces for risk management in which civil

    society could be able to analyze, design and prepare

    proposals from different standpoints, and plan actions that

    allow for the incorporation of disaster risk reduction into

    current policies;

  Link their work to the efforts made by institutions belonging

     to National Systems for Disaster Prevention and Response

    (former Civil Defense Systems) and other bodies

    responsible for development planing in their respective


  Provide support to the development of joint proposals that

    may be funded by international agencies and implemented

    in coordination with government agencies;

  Create spaces for the design and implementation of

    awareness raising campaigns for disaster risk reduction;

  Develop participatory risk management projects that may

    serve to strengthen the existing link between disaster

    eduction and sustainable development;  

  Support the strengthening of local and regional

    organizations and institutions working on disaster risk

    management, as well as existing networks that play a

    pivotal role in addressing poverty alleviation, human rights,

    health, local development and other issues in these


  Foster an institutional framework for a risk reduction

    approach among development and humanitarian NGOs;

  Promote the incorporation of risk management into

    government and sectoral development plans at local,

    regional and national levels;

  Foster the creation of spaces for dialogue, debate of and

    reflection on proposals for disaster risk reduction that

    include both the private and public sectors;  

  Further the incorporation of risk management training into

    different types and levels of education; and

  Create spaces for the exchange of experience, information

    and institutional resources at national and international


The aforementioned social body must become the participatory and democratic space of a "managing group" that will work on the formulation of strategies and the development of proposals for development policies that include risk management. These new proposals should take into consideration national realities, current policies, decentralization processes, the particular features of each region in a given country and the existing conditions of vulnerability. This should be done while respecting equity and human rights and the coordination of humanitarian actions in the event of a disaster.

This risk management promoting space must be an autonomous body that defines its own operating procedures. Its actions must be based upon the work done through different networks. In order to achieve its goals, this space must build capacities and include both men and women from different communities in order to enhance commitment from their local, regional and national governments. Finally, this space should not only foster opportunities for discussion and relationship building, but also for proactive and consensus-based participation.

As a number of networks are emerging throughout the world in the field of risk reduction, which are already working and interacting with other regions, their inclusion will improve the exchange of experiences and strategies for action. To date, there are networks established in Asia and Central America and they are already showing good results. For this reason, the promotion of a Latin American Network for Disaster Risk Management, that goes beyond individual countries and becomes a global movement, may help improve the actions of civil society within the National Platforms for Risk Reduction and contribute to overcoming the challenges of this new decade, a process that started in Kobe.

In other words, we will make efforts to achieve that starting from local spaces for disaster risk management national entities be strengthened and linked to regional bodies, with the purpose of creating a global network to put into practice the Hyogo Framework for Action and achieve the Millennium Goals.

For more information please contact:
Sergio A. Alvarez Gutierrez
Regional Program for Risk Management and Humanitarian Response
OXFAM America