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close this bookManaging Natural Disasters and the Environment (World Bank, 1991, 232 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAbout the contributors
View the documentForeword
View the documentEditors’ introduction
close this folderIntroduction
View the documentManaging environmental degradation and natural disasters: an overview
close this folderStrategic issues
View the documentClimate hazards, climatic change, and development planning
View the documentWhich costs more: prevention or recovery?
View the documentCase study: Rio Flood Reconstruction and Prevention Project
View the documentCase study: La Paz Municipal Development Project
View the documentThe International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction
View the documentMinimizing the greenhouse effect
close this folderDevelopment: from vulnerability to resilience
View the documentCase study: housing reconstruction in Mexico City
View the documentLiving with floods: alternatives for riverine flood mitigation
View the documentCase study: creating job and income opportunities for refugees in Pakistan
View the documentManaging drought and locust invasions in Africa
View the documentDisasters and development in East Africa
View the documentThe link between reconstruction and development
close this folderRisk management
View the documentDisaster response: generic or agent-specific?
View the documentIntegrated planning for natural and technological disasters
View the documentEconomic incentives and disaster mitigation
View the documentCoastal zone management
View the documentDisaster insurance in New Zealand
View the documentCase study: reconstruction after North China’s earthquake
View the documentCase study: Nepal Municipal Development and Earthquake Reconstruction Project
View the documentTraining in the Asian-Pacific region
View the documentRemote sensing and technology transfer in developing countries
View the documentCase study: Minas Gerais Forestry Development Project
View the documentCase study: Da Xing An Ling Forest Fire Rehabilitation Project
close this folderCoordinating efforts
View the documentCase study: Sudan Emergency Flood Reconstruction Program
View the documentUNDP coordination of disaster and development planning
View the documentThe role of nongovernment organizations in Sri Lanka
View the documentManaging natural hazards
View the documentCase study: Taiz Flood Disaster Prevention and Municipal Development Project
View the documentWriting an action plan for disaster preparedness in Africa
View the documentList of colloquium discussants, moderators, and speakers
View the documentKey to acronyms, initials, and abbreviations
View the documentReferences

UNDP coordination of disaster and development planning

Seyril R. Siegel and Peter Witham

Many disaster-prone countries are recognizing the need to formulate development policies that are more responsive to the need for disaster prevention and mitigation. Case studies of Bangladesh, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Jamaica illustrate how this is being accomplished. The UN system, especially the UNDP, has a special role helping governments strengthen links between disaster planning and planning for development. It will be upgrading the ability of its field offices to support governments in this area, through an extensive training program.

Rapid telecommunications and media coverage have brought to world attention visual evidence of the increasing number of earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides, floods, volcanic eruptions, and prolonged droughts. Increasingly these natural disasters have added to hardship in the lives of population groups already living in clearly unacceptable conditions. In Latin America, for example, the pace of urbanization and industrialization has exacerbated the devastating effect on cities of recurrent natural disasters. Each time disaster strikes, most of those who must be evacuated, lodged, fed, and cared for in temporary shelters are from the lower-income groups.

The effects of natural disasters are magnified by the chaotic and uncontrolled process of human settlement in urban areas. Until recently, environmental impact assessments, risk analysis, contingency programs, and the lessons learned from past natural disasters were rarely taken into account before new settlements were established, so natural disasters were costly to local and central governments (UNDP 1988).

Recent experience around the world illustrates how the effects of disasters can be mitigated by an effective system of predisaster activity (see boxes on Ethiopia, Jamaica, Bangladesh, and Colombia). Some countries are experiencing the same kinds of disaster more often than in the past, and some emergency situations could have been mitigated or even prevented. Several governments are paying increasing attention to disaster-related issues in their development planning.

UNDP involvement

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has long been involved in disaster-related activities, in four ways: as a funding source; as the field representative of the United Nations Disaster Relief Office (UNDRO), and often as executing agent of disaster management projects, through its Office for Projects Services (OPS); and because the UNDP resident representative is often asked to help coordinate disaster relief.

Case study: Ethiopia

Seyril R. Siegel and Peter Witham

The disastrous situation in Ethiopia needs little introduction. In 1988 alone, an estimated 7 million people were threatened by drought. The complex nature of the situation - the effects of drought compounded by civil strife - have posed many problems for development and relief agencies.

Disaster preparedness. In December 1988, a successful UNDP-funded seminar in Ethiopia was hosted by the Office of the National Committee for Central Planning (ONCCP), which has overall responsibility for development planning. This was a seminal event, as until this point there had been little attempt to integrate disaster preparedness into development planning. The links between the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) and the ONCCP still need to be strengthened, however. One possibility is to strengthen the small disaster preparedness unit in the ONCCP. The functions of such a unit should be (1) to evaluate the preparedness and prevention programs of the line ministries, (2) to develop ways to strengthen the National Preparedness and Prevention Plan, and (3) to find ways to integrate disaster prevention and preparedness into other government initiatives.

Relief. A National Committee for Relief and Rehabilitation, chaired by the head of state, includes in its membership the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, the Deputy Chairman of the ONCCP, the Commissioner of the Relief and Rehabilitation Committee (RRC), and the heads of relevant ministries. The RRC is the body primarily concerned with the day-to-day coordination of the government’s relief efforts. Interministerial committees are chaired by RRC officials at all administrative levels down to the awraja. The RRC’s mandate is extensive, but it does not have the authority and resources it needs to implement its mandate effectively.

The UNDP’s role

The UN system in general, and the UNDP in particular, places a high priority on focusing its programs on the relief-preparedness-development continuum. In response to the continuing emergency, the structure of the UNDP office was radically changed in late 1985. Before that date, the UN’s office for Emergency Operations in Ethiopia (EOE) was separate from the UNDP office. The appointment of Mr. Michael Priestley in 1985 as the Secretary General’s Special Representative, the Resident Coordinator, and the UNDP Resident Representative enabled the UN system (with considerable help from bilateral donors) to start building the same type of links between disaster response and preparedness that had been advocated for the government.

In January 1987 a UN Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Group (EPPG) was established in Addis Ababa. Members of the EPPG include FAO, UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, WHO and the World Bank. Backstopping the EPPG is a UNDP coordinating unit many of the staff members for which have been provided from bilateral sources working on UN contracts. The advantages of this arrangement are that the unit benefits from the multilateral and “neutral” image of the UN, yet bilateral donors can help backstop the coordination effort. The unit’s staffing can be easily adjusted in response to the changing emergency situation. The professional staff has declined from a high of 22 in 1985 (in the unit that predated the EPPG) to six in 1989. The coordinating unit plays a vital role in monitoring the relief activities not only of the UN but of bilateral donors. (EPPG reports are often quoted to the legislative bodies of donor countries.)

The EPPG and the coordinating unit collaborate with NGOs, primarily because bilateral donors have chosen to channel most of their relief activities through NGOs (in 1988-89 as much as 60-75 percent). EPPG is represented at the meetings of the 50-member Christian Relief and Development Association (CRDA).

Linking disaster response and disaster preparedness

Nationwide efforts in rehabilitation and reconstruction must inevitably await the end of civil conflict. The UNDP is helping the government prepare an emergency famine code. Needs that must be counted in this phase include the resettlement of displaced persons. Development activities should be targeted directly at these groups. Reconstruction efforts must tackle the underlying causes of periodic emergencies. Long-term efforts must be tackled through the country’s regular development infrastructure rather than those government agencies responsible for emergency management.

The Conference on Disaster Preparedness and Prevention made recommendations that can only be summarized here. One conference paper, delivered jointly by representatives of the ONCCP and the UNDP, advocated the following measures, among others:

· Use preparedness as a platform for prevention. Food-for-work programs, for example, should be devised with longer-term prevention projects in mind.

· Look for preparedness components within current development programs. Reassess how current development projects can incorporate elements of preparedness.

· Link preparedness and prevention in all future project and program initiatives. The two components should be part of the criteria for virtually all future project and program proposals.

Agreeing about the desirability of such measures may be easy, the paper concluded, but substantial efforts must be made to strengthen institutions, improve communication between them, and provide clear guidelines for implementation. Herein lies the greatest challenge for the government and donors, including the UNDP.

Between 1971 and 1988, US$34 million was spent on 229 activities related to disaster relief, rehabilitation, preparedness, and prevention. Fifty-nine percent of those projects were connected with emergency relief. The $5 million in funds released to finance those projects were drawn from the UNDP’s Special Programme Resources (SPR). Financial commitment averaged $37,000 per project. The other 41 percent of the projects addressed disaster rehabilitation, prevention, and preparedness. Funding of $29 million was financed from SPR and from country Indicative Planning Figures (IPFs). The SPR component for the financing of rehabilitation and/or reconstruction activities amounted to $14 million for 41 projects - usually direct-support, short-term (two- to three-year) projects to meet specific needs emerging from government programs targeted to populations in devastated areas (UNDP/UNDRO 1989).

It is UNDP policy to encourage the inclusion of disaster prevention and preparedness projects in country programs financed by the IPF. Of 50 projects that have been or are being implemented (at an average cost of $280,000), 31 aim to reinforce governments’ ability to plan for disaster.

In 1988, a joint UNDP/UNDRO task force urged the UNDP to include disaster management and disaster mitigation activities more systematically in its program and project cycle. It is UNDP policy to do so, but only recently are governments fully appreciating these links. For the UNDP to help governments conceptually and institutionally link development planning with disaster preparedness, it has commissioned a study on institution-building, to identify lessons learned about how governments are addressing the effects of slow-onset or recurrent natural disasters and to recommend how the UNDP can best cooperate with governments in programs to mitigate the effects of disasters. This study, which is being carried out in three stages (including extensive field studies in three countries), is expected to be completed in January 1991.

The UNDP and UNDRO are about to launch a cooperative effort to train their staffs in disaster reduction, emphasizing the links between disaster reduction and ongoing development. The emphasis will be on training country personnel (UN personnel, NGOs, bilateral donor representatives, and representatives of central government planning organizations) to work as a country team on disaster mitigation and response. About 1,800 people in 50 disaster-prone developing countries are expected to receive training of varying length and content in the next three to four years.

Coordinating disaster planning and relief

Within the UN system, there are formal mechanisms for coordinating predisaster planning and disaster relief. UNDRO’s mandate is to be “a focal point in the United Nations system for disaster relief matters,” but the resident coordinator of the UN system in each host country is responsible for coordinating UN cooperation with that country. In virtually all countries, the UNDP resident representative is also the resident coordinator. In this role, as stipulated in article 8 of General Assembly Resolution A/RES/36/225, “in response to a request for disaster relief from a disaster-stricken state, as necessary, and in particular in disaster-prone countries, the United Nations Resident Coordinator shall, with the full concurrence, consent and participation of the Government, convene meetings of the concerned organs, organizations and bodies of the United Nations system to plan, monitor and take immediate action to provide assistance.”

In any case, the UNDP resident representative is UNDRO’s ex officio representative at the country level. In this dual capacity, all resident coordinators serving in disaster-prone countries have been instructed to form UN disaster management teams. These teams are made up of country representatives of those UN organizations with a specific mandate in disaster management, such as UNICEF, FAO, and WFP. Each resident coordinator has also been instructed to nominate a senior UNDP national professional officer to serve as the “focal point” for disaster management matters in the UNDP office. As the case studies show, the UN team has played a significant role in coordinating the UN response in each country.

Case study: Jamaica

Seyril R. Siegel and Peter Witham

Jamaica lies squarely astride the path for hurricanes and tropical storms, which have caused widespread catastrophic losses. In the past 109 years, the island has experienced 21 hurricanes - an average of one every 5.1 years, the most recent of which was Hurricane Gilbert in September 1988. Hurricanes and tropical storms have been few and far between in the last three decades, but this is a historical anomaly. There is little reason to believe this pattern will continue.

In the same period, more than 35 tropical storms have either made landfall or passed near the island. Some brought much-needed rain, but others caused substantial, generally local, wind damage and brought floods that were especially damaging to agriculture. Tropical storms occur an average once every 2.5 years.

Hurricanes and tropical storms cause most of Jamaica’s catastrophic losses, but the island also has significant earthquake exposure. The earthquake of 1692 submerged the better part of Port Royal and that of 1907 extensively damaged Kingston. Kingston and other urban centers would probably suffer heavy damage should another major earthquake occur.

Recent disasters

On 12 September 1988, Hurricane Gilbert struck the island with wind speeds estimated at more than 140 miles per hour. After the disaster, 810,000 homeless people were accommodated in 1,136 emergency shelters. Forty percent of the island’s housing stock was badly damaged; close to 30,000 mainly low-income units were completely destroyed. Losses were an estimated US$1 billion: $300 million in public infrastructure, $260 million in housing, $200 million in manufacturing, $160 million in agriculture, and $80 million in tourism.

Banana, coconut, cocoa, coffee, and yam crops suffered severe damage and the broiler industry was shattered, with most birds and crops lost. Electricity was severely disrupted as both the generation and distribution facilities were damaged. There was also widespread damage to various public buildings such as schools, hospitals, clinics, and offices.

The hurricane came when Jamaica was beginning a steady economic recovery and the effect of a $1 billion loss on an economy with a $3 billion GDP was severe. Losses in tourism were relatively minor - more in cancellations and lack of services than in damage to physical facilities.

Casualties were relatively light - only 45 deaths were reported - mainly because of an efficient preparedness program administered by the Office of Disaster Preparedness (ODP), the Government’s permanent professional agency responsible for disaster preparedness and mitigation. The island was fortunate that the expected storm surge, which would have caused extensive flooding, failed to materialize.

To understand the events following reconstruction, it is important to know that Jamaica was about to have a general election when the hurricane struck. The upcoming elections played a crucial role in determining the pace at which rehabilitation and reconstruction work was implemented.

Government arrangements

Disaster preparedness. The country’s chief coordinating body for disaster preparedness is the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Relief Coordination (ODIPERC), established in July 1980. Overall policy is contained in a National Disaster Plan. In the event of a threatening, imminent, or actual disaster, ODIPERC assumes the lead in coordinating and activating the plan. It is supported by a National Disaster Committee, parish committees, and emergency services.

ODIPERC was established to create and maintain contingency plans at national, parish, and local levels; to promote public awareness of disaster threats and appropriate responses thereto; to monitor the effectiveness of hazard mitigation strategies; and to establish an emergency response when major disasters occur. ODIPERC has an ongoing program in public information and provides officials with disaster training. The responsibility of ODIPERC’s director is to ensure that contingency plans are developed and activated for national and major emergencies. He advises the prime minister and the minister of local government on disaster preparedness and maintains contact with government agencies, major donor agencies, and private sector groups.

Disaster response and relief. The roles of government agencies, emergency services, and volunteer agencies are clearly defined in the event of a disaster. The security forces and the fire department play a vital role in emergency and recovery situations. The security forces maintain law and order; search and rescue operations are coordinated by the fire department and emergency services, assisted by the Jamaica Defence Force. Government agencies such as the Ministry of Construction (Works), the Ministry of Social Security, and the Ministry of Local Government oversee repairs, rehabilitation, and coordination in disasters. The Ministry of Local Government supports the Parish Disaster Committees that arrange to procure resources (manpower, materials, equipment) in all 14 parishes and ensure their mobilization in emergencies and disasters.

Voluntary organizations such as the Red Cross, Project Accord, and the Salvation Army work closely with ODIPERC and the Ministry of Social Security. These autonomous bodies act as auxiliaries to the established public institutions. Because of their decentralized operations they are in a position to provide effective administrative links regionally and locally. ODIPERC coordinates the activities of these agencies through the Parish Disaster Committees. It supports the agencies by facilitating access to scarce resources and handles requests for external assistance - money, equipment, or technical assistance - so they can function effectively.

The UNDP’s role. Hurricane Gilbert was truly a national disaster. Every one of the island’s 14 parishes was affected. The suffering - particularly of the underprivileged - was exacerbated by the loss of most subsistence-income-generating activities through the destruction of cash crops, soil erosion, widespread flooding and water damage, the suspension of power and water supplies, significantly diminished health and sanitation services, and the suspension of schooling, transportation, and telecommunication services. At the same time, successive structural adjustment programs had resulted in diminished public services, layoffs, and cuts in public spending. With institutional capabilities severely depleted, the government asked the UNDP/UNDRO representative to coordinate relief needs with donor and international responses.

Working with the office of the Prime Minister, the UNDP chaired daily meetings between the donors, local and international nongovernment organizations, the UN system, and officials representing the sectors that had suffered damage. The UNDP and the ODP established a computerized system for tracking and monitoring all relief supplies and ensuring the precise specification of needs.

The UNDP helped the World Bank and other bilateral donors by providing the information and services needed to facilitate the damage assessments on which quick-disbursing reconstruction grants and loans would be based. A geographic information system was established based on earlier work by the OAS, and an interactive emergency information network was put in place in 11 government public utilities and departments to facilitate resource management in the reconstruction phase and in preparation for future disasters.

Several UNDP-financed postdisaster studies were carried out to provide information on which decisions could be made to improve national resource management and to reduce disasters’ negative effects on the economy. The most important of these was “A Catastrophic Loss Insurance Programme for Agricultural Industries, Low-Income Housing, and Critical Public Services.” This study points out that “no one can define with any measure of accuracy precisely which Government installations and services are critical. This would not be so important except for the fact that neither the GOJ [Government of Jamaica] nor the ministries and agencies thereof have an inventory of capital stock and their replacement values. The Government literally does not know what it owns, where it is or what it would cost to replace.”

At the request of the government, the UNDP later redirected its country program using as a window of opportunity rehabilitation and reconstruction for structural changes in national resource management. This strategy has met with limited success, but has set a basis for significant improvement as there is now greater national appreciation of how disasters affect the economy.

Case study: Bangladesh

Seyril R. Siegel and Peter Witham

Bangladesh meets most of the conditions guaranteed to increase a country’s vulnerability to natural disasters. It is a developing country. It depends heavily on its agricultural sector, but remains a net food importer. Deforestation is a serious problem and Bangladesh is the most densely populated developing country in the world, with an annual population growth rate of at least 2.6 percent. All these factors put enormous pressure on arable land and many people live where they are virtually defenseless against tropical storms and storm surges (such as the “chars” in the Bay of Bengal). Moreover, the topography of the country is such that at least 80 percent of the land area is subject to severe flooding. Worse, the country’s major riverine systems originate outside Bangladesh, so the government has little control over the volume of water entering this almost totally deltaic and low-lying country. As a result, the country is subject to both drought and flooding.

Recent disasters

One of the greatest disasters of modern times occurred in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1970 when a huge cyclone struck the country’s southern coastline, killing about 300,000 people. In 1985, another large cyclone hit the southern part of the country and the storm surge killed 10,000. In 1987, the country was hit by the worst floods in 70 years. The immediate death toll was about 1,000, and the IMF estimated that the country’s economic growth rate for that year had been halved. In 1988, the country was hit by floods of even greater magnitude than those of 1987, inundating 53 of the country’s 64 districts and affecting 45 million people - rendering about 25 million of them homeless. Just as the floods were receding, another cyclone hit the relatively less-populated south-west coast, killing about 6,500.

One can only guess at the economic effect of these disasters but at least 30 percent of the population (more than 30 million people) are landless peasants, totally dependent on sharecropping for income. Obviously, the medium-term consequences to them of sudden huge drops in agricultural production are grave. But there are also other costs. The floods of 1987 and 1988, for example, diverted government energies away from ongoing development work toward dealing with the effects of the floods. Thus damage from the floods is measured not only in GNP lost but in development postponed. “We have no margin for disaster,” stated the Secretary of Planning in November 1988. Successive floods undermine investors’ confidence in economic growth and inhibit development. On top of this, the cost of repairing or replacing capital stock was an estimated $1.1 billion for the 1988 floods alone.

Government arrangements

Disaster preparedness. The current (third) five-year plan of the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) makes no reference to the need to link disaster preparedness with ongoing economic and social development. Neither do annual development plans or sectoral plans. But so many people (and all development sectors) were affected by these floods that a disaster preparedness strategy for Bangladesh must encompass not only all government-sponsored development but also society as a whole.

Traditionally, the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation has been responsible for disaster preparedness and response. Two factors have inhibited this ministry’s ability to fulfill its role. First, structurally, it is parallel to the regular “line” ministries, so it has not been in a position to participate in top-level or even sectoral planning. Second, its mandate is in effect directed to postdisaster activities. Current dialogue between donors and the GOB, therefore, focuses largely on the institutional arrangements needed in government so that the following functions can be performed: (1) changing the nation’s development strategies and programs to reflect a proactive rather than reactive response to disasters; (2) taking steps to convert disaster forecasts into effective national and local warnings, which may involve revising government standing orders, simplifying bulletins, broadening communication channels, and mapping local vulnerability; and (3) analyzing the increased risk of disaster as part of environmental impact assessments for proposed projects.

Overall responsibility for macroeconomic planning rests with the Planning Commission; most line ministries have planning cells. The government-based cast of actors must include the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), the Water Master Plan Organization, the Planning Commission, the Ministry of Planning (including probably the External Resources Division and the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division), the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation, and the line ministries (including Agriculture and Forests, Fisheries and Livestock, Irrigation, Industry, Health and Education, Local Government, Rural Development, and Cooperatives). Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) such as the Red Crescent, the Grameen Bank, and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee must clearly play an essential role in development and implementation of any national disaster preparedness plan.

Disaster response and relief. The country generally expects that in the event of a major natural disaster the presidential secretariat will coordinate the national response (not least the military and civilian relief efforts). This expectation was fulfilled in the 1985, 1987, and 1988 disasters. The immediate response of government - particularly the military - to recent disasters has earned relatively high marks from many observers, although the 1987 and 1988 floods revealed weaknesses in the response of many district and upazilla (subdistrict) administrations.

Rehabilitation and reconstruction. Four donors (Japan, France, the United States, and the UNDP) commissioned studies to examine the lessons to be learned from the 1987 and 1988 floods and to recommend more effective flood protection measures. These studies focused largely on the first of two types of institutional issues: the clear need to coordinate overall and local planning and implementation of any flood control strategy. The relationships between the “water-oriented” institutions are of particular importance in disaster control strategies.

A second category of institutional issues is even more complex - those concerned with the relationships and compatibility between needed physical measures for flood control (particularly the recommended “compartmentalization” approach) and ongoing development. Recent experience in Bangladesh has demonstrated that people will not hesitate to breach embankments if they perceive them as inhibiting the pursuit of their livelihood. Flood control measures must be planned carefully so they do not harm such activities as community forestry and inland fisheries. The whole issue of land use must be addressed. It features prominently in the terms of reference for the main regional studies coordinated by the Flood Action Plan panel of experts.

The UNDP’s role. In the 1985, 1987, and 1988 disasters, both the government and donors asked the UNDP office to help the government coordinate the international response. The local UNDP office chairs and provides secretariat support to the permanent UN Disaster Management Team (DMT), which includes representatives of the Asian Development Bank, FAO, UNICEF, WFO, WHO, and the World Bank, plus technical specialists from such relevant UNDP-assisted projects as flood forecasting and warning and meteorological services. Government officials and NGO representatives attended most of the meetings.

In addition, the UNDP resident representative, with the government’s full agreement, convened weekly meetings to which all donors (at the chief of mission level) were invited. Senior government officials also participated in these meetings. Within the UN system, each organization assumed responsibility for aspects of the disaster falling within its technical competence (for example, WFP for food aid and logistics and WHO for health requirements). The team’s efforts were greatly assisted by consultants fielded by UNDRO. Some donors (notably the United States) used the UNDP as a mechanism for channeling assistance to the GOB, in both relief and followup phases.

In retrospect, it appears that the efforts of the UN system were appreciated both by the GOB and the donors. UN staff (particularly senior national officers from UNICEF and WFP) were in a strong position to provide up-to-date information on needs in the disaster-affected areas. The DMT collated this information and provided it to UNDRO headquarters, whence it was sent out in the form of telexed situation reports (SITREPs). Information gathered from various points in the country was made available immediately to local donor representatives. These SITREPs also included information on relief supplies and funds pledged and delivered by donors.

Case study: Colombia

Seyril R. Siegel and Peter Witham

Throughout its history, Colombia has suffered disasters and calamities with some regularity. The country is located in the Pacific “fire belt” and much of its territory is crossed by the Andes - exposing it to continuous seismic and volcanic risk. Its topographical, geologic, and climatic conditions cause periodic floods and frequent mudslides.

Recent disasters

The 5,400-meter-high volcano Nevado del Ruiz had been relatively inactive since a major eruption in 1945. Then, on the night of November 13, 1985, tremors and blocks of red-hot pumice melted part of the ice cap that crowns the volcano. A mixture of water, pumice, and soil sped down the mountainside, gaining speeds of 30 miles an hour as it descended along the Azufrado River channel and the Lagunilla River, already swollen by heavy rains. The mudflow arrived with such force that it collapsed a natural dam on the Lagunilla and swept away the town of Armero, located about 45 kilometers from the crater, killing about 22,000 of the 29,000 inhabitants. It caused another river, the Gualto overflow, carrying away houses and a bridge on one of the main roads to the Colombian capital, BogotOn the western side of the mountain, another mudslide descended upon the Chinchinoffee-growing area, destroying 400 houses and killing more than 1,000 people. The economic loss to the social and productive infrastructure was estimated at the time to be more than $211.8 million.

This disaster was known worldwide, but Colombia has also been affected by less well-known events such as earthquakes in the Antigua Caldas region (1979) and Popayan (1983) and a seaquake in Tumaco (1979). In September 1987, after several days of heavy rain, a landslide buried 500 people and destroyed 300 houses in Villa Tina, a poor slum in the city of Medellin. And in 1988, winter floods that are common in Colombia’s northern plains were made worse by Hurricane Joan.

Government arrangements

The national system for disaster prevention and assistance. Not until after the tragedy of Armero did the government realize the importance of developing an appropriate policy for preventing and managing emergencies, particularly from natural disasters, or realize that such planning and prevention should be part of national development policies. In 1986, the National Office for Disaster Prevention and Assistance (ONAD) was created within the administrative department of the office of the Presidency of the Republic. In November 1988 Congress approved a law creating the National System for Disaster Prevention and Assistance. In May 1989 the National System was regulated and all related norms were codified in Decree 919, which defined the functions and responsibilities of various national and local public, autonomous, and private institutions.

This far-reaching decree calls upon ONAD to develop a full plan for the prevention of and attention to disasters. This plan is to cover all policies and programs related to all economic, financial, social, legal, and institutional aspects of prevention, response, reconstruction, and development, including education, training, community participation, information and communication systems, institutional and sectoral coordination, scientific research, technical studies, and control and evaluation.

Disaster response. Decree 919 created the National Technical Committee to coordinate the work of national and international organizations, with the support of special commissions and advisory groups. Decree 919 also established a National Operative Committee, a front-line disaster management unit responsible for immediate operations when a calamity occurs.

Regional and local administrations throughout Colombia are beginning to organize local emergency committees to prepare for and handle disasters in each municipality. These local committees helped in 1988 when Hurricane Joan struck the northern coast of Colombia and when the Galeras and Cumbal volcanos created emergencies. Local assistance was significantly improved during that 1988 rainy season - the worst winter in Colombia’s recorded history, affecting 400,000 people in 21 of the country’s 30 territorial subdivisions. The work of high-level and local emergency committees, together with a full public information campaign, created the conditions needed for successful disaster prevention and adequate assistance in providing food, health care, and temporary shelters.

To maintain the basic commodities needed in an emergency, reserve emergency centers are being created in easily accessible locations around the country. The commodities stored in these centers are national property in the custody of local authorities, for use when needed locally. All parts of the national communication system have been integrated into a true emergency network.

Rehabilitation is focused on repairing and improving roads, providing agricultural credit programs for crops, and rebuilding and repairing housing. To reach these objectives, the National Disaster Fund provided more than $7 million, in addition to funds other national organizations provided.

Disaster prevention. Risk prevention, now part of Colombia’s development policy, has been incorporated in the Urban Reform Law as well. National organizations must now incorporate this concept in their development plans, in the design of regional and urban projects or civil works of great magnitude, and in industrial activities that could present a threat of any kind to the population. They must keep in mind that ecological degradation and inadequate environmental protection help precipitate, and worsen, disasters. Government planning offices at all levels must now define and initiate actions aimed at risk prevention and mitigation.

Long-term, high-cost programs to preventively relocate towns and villages located in high-risk areas have begun. First, those parts of the country where danger is imminent must be identified town by town. Several towns in dangerous locations have begun programs to relocate to safer areas. The Urban Reform Law provides the basic legal framework in which this type of activity takes place. This kind of activity is likely to grow in importance.

An alternative is being proposed for the traditional approach of establishing temporary settlements in an emergency. Under the new approach, displaced Colombians are housed in the homes of those unaffected by a disaster who voluntarily offer their homes. A small fee is paid to the host family.

For homes scheduled for partial or total reconstruction after a disaster, the priority is location in low-risk areas. Reconstruction programs are to emphasize community participation and efficient institutional support. The solution for new housing is to provide a basic unit for immediate occupancy, leaving all refinements, additions, and subdivisions for later, under established credit programs. (Gone is the concept of free housing.) In the aftermath of last year’s rains, 2,500 houses are either repaired or being repaired, and 2,000 new homes are under construction.

Important progress has been made in developing a national risks inventory, coordinated by the national Technical Committee. More than 800 of the 1,009 municipalities have provided information. The National Geologic Institute (INGEOMINAS), which operates the National Vulcanologic Observatory, is in charge of volcanic surveillance - seismological and deformation data on Ruiz, Galeras, Cumbal, Tolima, and Machin volcanos. Preliminary risk maps are available for these volcanos and Huila. Aerophotographic surveys of all active volcanos in the country are made periodically. In 1991, a seismic network via satellite will begin operating nationwide, with a receiving center in Bogota and a portable network as well. For this program INGEOMINAS has the support of the UNDP and the Canadian government. The National Institute for Water Management (HIMAT), with technical support from the UNDP, has made substantial progress in systematizing a network via satellite of hydrometeorologic alerts. When this system is operating it will be used to survey the nation’s waterways.

To build the concept of prevention into Colombian culture, a program has been defined to incorporate prevention issues in school programs, both formal and nonformal, at all levels. Efforts are also being made to include in all school textbooks prevention issues appropriate to conditions in each region.

The UNDP’s role

Immediately after the tragedy of Armero and the landslide in Villa Tina, the UNDP was called upon to help the government assess damages, mobilize international support (for Nevado del Ruiz, an international appeal by the UN Secretary General), and implement followup activities. The UNDP (with UNDRO) provides information to the international community. A $2 million project later expanded by the government was approved for rehabilitating and rebuilding the area affected by the Nevado del Ruiz eruption. Part of this project is to improve the government’s ability to mitigate the risks and respond to emergencies. ONAD and the National System for Disaster Prevention and Assistance were created as part of this effort. This project is being evaluated so lessons learned can be shared with other countries.

As a result of the 1988 floods, the UNDP has supported a project to rehabilitate the zones affected in Cordoba. In addition to support for the National Seismologic Network, the Hydrometeorologic Alert Network, and the Volcanic Surveillance, the UNDP is helping to support a project on integrated management of prevention and disaster assistance in the urban zone of Medellin.

With ONAD, the UNDP has given administrative support to developing an UNDRO program for risk management for 60 local and national groups. In this pilot project, a first step in the UN’s International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction work is being undertaken in several high-risk areas: in Cali, on seismic risk; in Tumaco, on tsunamis; in Ibague, on the Tolima and Machin volcanos; along the Combeima River, on sudden floods; in Paz del Rio, on landslides; and in several parts of the country on industrial risks.

One of the most important lessons from the Colombia experience has been that projects to rehabilitate and reconstruct areas affected by disasters should build prevention and risk mitigation programs into development planning.

This case study was prepared in consultation with Colombia’s National Office for Disaster Prevention and Assistance.