Central America and Cuba United in Risk Management

Foto: PFC-GR

Foto: © PFC-GR

A conversation with Fernando Guasch, researcher of the National Center for Seismological Research of Cuba, and René Ramos, coordinator of the Program for Strengthening Risk Management Capacities.

Central America and Cuba are working together to benefit the people of the entire region by building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters, and incorporating disaster risk reduction more fully into sustainable development policy, planning and programming. This is being done in accordance with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).


In 2002, the National Center for Seismological Research of Cuba (CENAIS) presented the first version of the Methodology for Pre-Disasters Scenario Studies (Leaders’ Course, PAHO, Cuernavaca, Mexico).

In light of its impact, the document was later presented at the Regional Conference of Municipalities, held in Panama in 2006, and again in Costa Rica. As a result, the Program for Strengthening Risk Management Capacities (PFC-GR) in Central America expressed interest and began to work with CENAIS.

That year, networking efforts began in the region around scientific and technical cooperation. While the initial focus was the incidence of seismic hazards in the main human settlements in the region, a multi-hazard approach to risk scenarios was gradually developed, with a view towards improving adaptability to climate change and responding to food insecurity, among other vulnerability and risk factors.

Since 2007, Cuba has sent various missions to Central America and has stepped up exchanges relating to disaster prevention and mitigation between the island and the region, in the context of the program titled “Knowledge management as a function of disaster risk”. The primary goal of the program is to develop and consolidate local strategies for integrated disaster risk management, in order to reduce the impact of disasters and promote adequate development perspectives.

The cooperation initiatives launched by CENAIS have been broadened to include the National Center for Meteorological Forecast and the Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa Mountain Range Center. It is also expected that the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (CITMA) will become involved as a key component for achieving a safer type of development in Central America and the Caribbean.

The work done by Cuba and Central America draws on the Hyogo Framework for Action, which highlights the need to organize around disaster risk reduction at the regional level, and to offer international support for issuing forecasts, exchanging experiences and establishing early warning systems. “The work done by Cuba in the region is based on what was agreed upon in Hyogo,” said René Ramos, coordinator of PFC-GR in Central America.

Approaches to risk management in Central America and Cuba

According to Dr. Guasch, what are inaptly termed “natural disasters” have become one of the main threats to human stability and development on the planet. According to this expert, there is a very simple explanation for this: the failure to achieve intelligent co-existence with the forces of nature.

Guasch went on to explain that natural phenomena— which are indicative of the dynamic processes taking place on the Earth’s surface, or are induced by geodiversity— can turn into disasters if we fail to grasp the extent of the hazard they represent to us or the vulnerability of our surroundings.

In this regard, the geosciences researcher noted that Cuba has been working to develop a specific, multidisciplinary and comprehensive branch of science with inputs from environmental, physical, economic and social disciplines that transcend State politics. Known as “Disastrology,” this science “seeks to increase the use of scientific knowledge, new information and state-of-the-art technologies, and contributions from the social sciences, to reduce the impact of natural and manmade phenomena on human development.”

Dr. Guasch added that the challenge of building a safer world lies in our awareness of the causes that bring about disaster situations, and controlling the factors that exacerbate our susceptibilities.

The Cuban experience transferred to Central America

The Cuban expert also observed that the island developed its Civil Defense System in the 1960s, following an assessment of all of the past natural phenomena in Cuba, and focusing on the importance of human beings and society for the Cuban State. The country is now working systematically to strengthen a set of measures for the protection of the population and the national economy.

Dr. Guasch stressed that owing to this political will— which is reflected in the development and consolidation of Cuba´s National Civil Defense System, premised on public inclusion and participation— the system has proven to be efficient and timely in protecting lives and the State’s principal resources. Over the last few years, the toll on human lives taken by regional hydrometeorological phenomena such as Hurricanes Mitch, Michelle, Isidore, Lily, Ivan, Charley, Dennis, Katrina and Wilma, has been disproportionately low relative to the frequency and severity of these events in the country. There is no denying, however, that severe natural phenomena, including powerful hurricanes, heavy rainfall and drought, have had a harmful impact on the Cuban economy and the environment.

The Cuban specialist and his Central American colleague, however, are mainly interested in the physical vulnerability of urban housing and they believe more emphasis is needed in this area. For example, through its Institute for Physical Planning, Cuba regulates land use and approaches strategic planning in function of expository risk management. This is done in conjunction with the National Housing Administration and, in particular, with local governments. It is expected that similar work will be done in the Central American region to adapt physical structures, making them more resilient to potential phenomena that might affect the population.

Progress in the efforts undertaken

Both Ramos and Guasch explained that the work initiated by PFC-GR in the Central American region and Cuba is headed in the right direction, with the integration and mobilization achieved by the Mesas Nacionales para la Gestión de Riesgos (National Risk Management Boards), one of its cornerstones. The two experts concur that this collaboration will be broadened and scaled-up to the extent that stakeholders are able to raise the profile of the problems facing communities at the national level, and achieve an actual strategic disaster risk management locally and nationally.


The primary expectation is to achieve comprehensive knowledge management as a function of disaster risk management.

Dr. Guasch mentioned that this is a broad and complex goal, and one that is necessary in order to holistically address all variables that generate risk: hazards and vulnerability. In addition, “an integrating synergy must be achieved among all sectors of society, in order to develop a true strategic disaster risk management that goes beyond slogans and aims at building capacity in the Region.”

For further information, please contact:
Miriam Chávez
Communications officer
Program for Strengthening Risk Management Capacities in
Central America (PFC-GR)