Academic Offerings Directly Related to Disaster Risk Reduction at Institutions of Higher Education in Spanish-Speaking Countries of Latin America

The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), through the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: “Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters” (HFA), underscores the importance of enhancing knowledge in various areas of risk management, not only of risks, but of how to implement processes of change.

There are approximately 8,910 Institutions of Higher Education (IHE), both public and private, in Latin America and the Caribbean. Approximately 6,062 of these are in Spanish-speaking countries.

Higher education is a public good, a universal human right, and an obligation of States. These convictions are the basis for the strategic role that higher education should play in the sustainable development of all countries in the region.

Sustainable development, however, is undermined by both natural and anthropogenic events, which threaten those societies exposed to them. Their vulnerability reproduces risk scenarios that hinder the overall goal of sustainable development.

In recent decades, a variety of large and small disasters have affected the region. Most countries have experienced hazards of one kind or another, frequently with devastating consequences at both national and local levels. Reducing vulnerability and strengthening risk management capacity are key elements of sustainable development strategies for the coming years. Global tendencies toward social and environmental degradation, as well as climate change, require effective approaches, ones with regional perspectives, but also local nuances.

Higher learning institutions can play a critical role in assuring the viability of strategic plans for disaster risk management and sustainable development. As permanent establishments, they are the cornerstones of human resource development and programmatic applications.

As stated at the Regional Conference on Higher Education (CRES 2008), held in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, “In a world in which knowledge, science, and technology play primary roles, the development and strengthening of higher education constitutes a key element of social progress, wealth generation, the strengthening of cultural identities, social cohesion, the struggle against poverty and hunger, climate change and the energy crisis prevention, as well as the promotion of a culture of peace.”

Today, higher education institutions have increased their participation in addressing problems related to disaster risk management through their three inherent pillars: extension, research, and teaching — this last element by establishing specific academic programs on the issue, in both graduate and undergraduate settings

In the same way, the HFA stresses the importance of making risk reduction a national priority, on a par with other goals such as the application of knowledge, innovation, and education to create a culture of safety and resilience at all levels; guaranteeing equal access by women and marginalized groups to adequate educational and training opportunities; promoting the inclusion of gender and culture issues as integral parts of education; training in disaster risk reduction; and establishing specialized centers for regional collaboration — or reinforcing existing ones — which can conduct research, provide training and education, and foster capacity-building in the field disaster risk reduction.


A survey was conducted on study programs at public and private higher learning institutions (universities, colleges and technological institutes), accredited by their respective national education systems of the Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America.

The subject of inquiry was the academic offerings titled or containing the term “disaster risk management”or phrases associated with the term “disaster”, or with a particular orientation towards it.

The survey included graduate and undergraduate academic offerings. Within the undergraduate category, three sub-variables were considered: technical, technological, and professional studies. At the graduate level, the sub-categories explored were specializations, master’s degrees, and doctorates

In the development of the survey, it was necessary to bear in mind offerings leading to professional licensure [diplomado]—which, could be undergraduate or graduate depending on the location—as these are critical to teaching careers in the region.

Sources of information for this study were the institutions relevant to the project’s goals, as well as networks comprised of such bodies, via the websites of higher education institutions and professionals in the field of disaster risk working in post-secondary education


According to the findings of the survey, which was carried out in 18 Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America and the Caribbean and the territory of Puerto Rico:

  • There are 76 higher education institutions in Spanish-speaking Latin America and the Caribbean that offer at least one program directly related to disaster risk management (DRM).
  • These 76 institutions offer a total of 86 programs in the region.
  • Only 1.24% of the institutions in the surveyed countries offer programs directly related to disaster risk management.
  • Approximately 85% of the academic programs on disaster risk management are offered by universities.
  • Approximately 66% of the academic offerings in disaster risk management are found in public higher learning institutions.
  • Approximately 69% of the academic offerings are graduate programs.
  • Among the academic offerings, degree programs (27.9%) and specializations (25.58%) are the most prevalent.
  • The survey was unable to find any information disaster risk management studies programs in some countries such as Uruguay or Paraguay.
  • Certain countries in Central America (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) and in the Caribbean (Cuba and the Dominican Republic), offer the fewest graduate and undergraduate programs on the subject, according to the information reviewed.
  • Conversely, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru offer the most graduate and undergraduate programs.

For further information, please contact:
Luis Carlos Martínez Medina
UNISDR Consultant
Coordinator of the Collaborative Goodwill Center, UNISDR
University of Quindío. / /