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close this bookDiagnostic Study for the DIPECHO Action Plan for Central America and the Caribbean (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters - DIPECHO - ECHO Programme for Disaster Preparedness, Mitigation and Prevention, 1997, 184 p.)
close this folderGENERAL CONCLUSION
Open this folder and view contentsI. MAIN LESSONS DRAWN FROM THE DIAGNOSTIC STUDY
Open this folder and view contentsII. PRIORITY LINES OF ACTION FOR DIPECHO

1. Disasters and risks in Central America and the Caribbean: Risks unevenly distributed but present everywhere

The first part of the diagnostic study illustrated the great vulnerability of the Central America/Caribbean region to natural disasters. The toll of human loss, though not on the same scale as in other regions of the world, notably southern Asia, speaks volumes alone. Moreover, natural disasters put a real brake on development, affecting not only housing and infrastructure, but also key sectors of the economy (farming, industry and tourism), which have become crucial, owing to the countries’ foreign debt. In a spiral process, economic and social difficulties contribute in turn to increasing the vulnerability of countries in the region.

The insufficiency of available data makes it difficult to make a synthetic and comparative regional assessment. It seems nevertheless that although the small island States are affected less often than the other countries, their economies, on each occasion, suffer proportionally greater disruption. Official statistics however do not sufficiently take into account the many minor events whose cumulative effects are just as damaging as those of major disasters.

Analysis of hazard distribution, by type and frequency, has made it possible to identify regional distinctive features highlighting Central America where most countries, except for Belize and Honduras, are subject to all hazard types (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, tropical hurricanes, stormy seas, floods and landslides). Elsewhere, no country is safe. All are confronted by several threatening phenomena, in particular hydro-meteorological phenomena. The latter however occur more frequently in the southern part of the Lesser Antilles.

Quite a significant discrepancy was observed between the distribution of potential hazards and past disasters, which underlines the importance of socio-economic vulnerability factors. Analysis of various vulnerability criteria revealed even greater differences between countries

By comparing these criteria with figures on natural hazards it was possible to identify the risk level in the region. The highest degree of risk can be found in four Central American countries (Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras) and Haiti in the Caribbean. There follows a second group of countries made up of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Costa Rica and St. Vincent. The risk level appears to be lower in the other countries, to varying degrees, according to the relative levels of hazards and vulnerability, but no country has a risk level which could be defined as low.

2. Achievements and needs regarding risk reduction: Significant efforts made but actions still too isolated and limited

An assessment was made of actions carried out in the region aimed at reducing the risks and consequences of disasters, in cases where the latter had been unavoidable (second part of the diagnostic study). Considerable efforts have been made, especially during the last few years in most countries in the region. The assessment nevertheless reveals substantial gaps in all areas concerning the process of disaster reduction.

Efforts in the area of scientific and technical research have progressed furthest, which is what one would expect given that they are at the root of the action. The general features of damaging natural phenomena are well understood. However, understanding of some points is still insufficient (in particular seismic risk or the very short term forecast of hydro-meteorological phenomena). There is also still a great lack of essential assistance tools, such as hazard mapping (especially multi-hazard mapping and large scale mapping).

Research on vulnerability and the factors that determine it is still of secondary importance, especially in the Caribbean. Studies of the economic and social consequences of disasters and especially on the cost of prevention, are much too rare. Present vulnerability conditions are thus badly understood and it is very difficult to make a correct assessment of risk on the different geographical levels which could be useful in preparing any prevention policy.

The area of prevention itself is overshadowed on the whole, not only on a factual but also, all too often, on an intellectual level and for example in the political world. Many aspects of this question were developed, such as the resistance level of buildings to natural elements. This aspect has been the subject of many useful initiatives which however have rarely been put into practice. One of the most negative aspects for the future is without any doubt the almost universal absence of preventive urban planning. The region already has several large urban areas which are characterised by their chaotic development. This problem can only get worse, owing to high urbanisation rates and the high potential for them suggested by urbanisation rates which are still low in several countries.

The low priority given to prevention makes it necessary to develop preparedness actions, namely actions which allow the best possible response to an emergency situation which could not be avoided. Without preparedness, response is dominated by improvisation when a potentially hazardous event takes place. The consequences are in such cases maximal. This type of scenario still exists but is becoming less common. Preparedness actions (warning systems, relief management and emergency aid) have increased during the last few years in the region, especially at a local level and in rural areas. This was made possible by direct or indirect action by several international organisations, sometimes supported by national institutions that are more accustomed to questions linked to emergencies than to prevention. The effects of such actions however are still limited owing to their very incomplete geographical scope. Questions marks also still lie over many areas, such as communities’ response capacities in the first hours following a disaster, or emergency communication networks.

Information and training not only promote the results of scientific and technical research but are also a base for prevention and preparedness activity. Substantial work has been carried out in these two complimentary areas (discussions, workshops, papers, the San Josocumentation centre, training provided in many communities etc.). However there are many weaknesses, such as the insufficient development of regional and national information networks. Emphasis must also be placed on training specific sectors of the public who have, or will have, a decisive role to play (especially the education and health sectors, workers, the media and decision-makers). Finally, training provided at a local level would benefit from being made more practical, assessed and coordinated, whilst at the same time ensuring greater balance between rural and, currently underpriviliged, urban areas.

Initiatives aimed at disaster reduction have on the whole been greatly developed in a few years which counters the common perception that developing countries merely suffer disasters. These actions however are still too isolated and limited, are often insufficiently coordinated and there is still a great need for action both in Central America and the Caribbean.

3. Conditions for implementing the DIPECHO programme

In order to define lines of action for DIPECHO, consideration must be given not only to needs but also to conditions necessary for optimal efficiency in the implementation of the programme.

The Central America/Caribbean region as a whole is characterised by its great heterogeneity and by cultural, political, economic and social divisions, not to mention differences in area and population between some countries. The context varies however according to region.

· Central America (apart from Belize) is much more closely fused together than the Caribbean islands. This can be seen not only on a cultural and political level (Central American Integration System), but also on the level of risk management. CEPREDENAC, despite the fact that it was only recently set up, has solid foundations and plays a central role in disaster reduction projects in its six member countries.

· In the Caribbean islands, it is difficult to find relatively unified sub-groups. They are present to an extent in the Lesser Antilles, which are partly grouped together in the OECS. The Greater Antilles however, on many levels, are literally broken up, and islands such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic, are in fact closer to Central America than to the rest of the Caribbean islands. Regional risk management in CARICOM countries is the responsibility of CDERA, whose competencies are more limited than those of CEPREDENAC. However, other initiatives, both in competition, such as those of the OECS (whose member countries are also members of CARICOM), and with a more wide-ranging sphere of action such as those of CARIFORUM, are being developed.

DIPECHO can thus rely on CEPREDENAC in Central America: the situation in the Caribbean on the other hand needs to be clarified, even though CDERA is looked on as the main negotiator.

Institutional weaknesses are especially apparent at national level in all regions (narrow vision of risk management limited to crisis and relief management, low capacity for identifying priorities and drawing up projects and lack of political and financial support). Apart from exceptional cases, national institutions cannot yet be more than indirect partners in DIPECHO. However, because of the relevance of certain ideas or projects, a case by case approach may be feasible if a minimum of conditions are met (including, the importance of the need to take into account political implications, previous experience in risk reduction and, above all, collaboration with partners with a track record in project management).

To carry out its programme, DIPECHO can rely on the support of a number of partners who have already set up prevention/preparedness programmes in the region, sometimes in collaboration with ECHO. These partners are mainly international organisations such as IDNDR and its regional office, the PHO/WHO, IRCF and the OAS which are responsible for several projects of interest to DIPECHO, both new and already set up. Some UNDP projects could also be of interest to DIPECHO.

Other possible partners include well-known organisation such as la RED or Mcins Sans Fontis, as well as other organisations known for their experience or their projects (such as CDMD, CRS, CEP, PREMIDES, FEMICA, AUI...). A non-exhaustive list of these organisations can be found in the diagnostic study.

DIPECHO must also consider the activities in the region of European Union Member States and the European Commission.

Several Member States have taken action in the region in various areas of risk reduction. These include Sweden in particular, but also Denmark, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, while German participation is taking shape. Projects which are already under way or in prospect coordinated by most of these countries may fall within DIPECHO’s sphere of interest.

Apart from ECHO action in the region since 1994, European Community Directorate Generals have taken very little action on disaster prevention and preparedness. However, several of their development programmes could however usefully have introduced this element.

1. Common recommendations for Central America and the Caribbean

The needs in the area of disaster reduction have been outlined. They cover, to varying degrees, all components in the process of reducing the risks and consequences of natural disaster (scientific and technical research, actual prevention, preparedness and information/training).

However in order to be coherent and effective, DIPECHO cannot cover everything and should not be satisfied with an increase in the number of sector-based programmes and/or programmes which are too localised to respond to the needs expressed. The programmes which are already under way must of course be continued, consolidated and generalised provided their effectiveness has been proven. Coordination problems between such programmes and other similar ones being carried out in the region should also be resolved.

Having said that, long term solution for risk reduction in the region can only be found within a more global framework both thematically, geographically and temporal. In order to achieve this, it will be necessary to:

- progress from a limited sector-based approach to a more integrated one which is intersector-based and interinstitutional, in the framework of real sustainable development programmes (even if this means giving priority to certain sectors over others, such as, for example, urban vulnerability);

- progress from an approach which is too localised to geographically more wide-ranging approaches, so as to ensure better coordination and greater coherence of developed projects within an overall framework;

- progress from an excessively short term approach, to an approach which integrates risk reduction in the medium and long terms.

However, the conditions required for working in a global framework have not yet been achieved: there are institutional weaknesses at key geographical levels (regional level, especially in the Caribbean and national level); low political involvement at all levels; insufficient concern for prevention; difficulty in integrating the concept of risk in development programmes; difficulty in coordinating the action of organisations involved in risk reduction; insufficient information distribution still, etc.

DIPECHO action should therefore, above all else, contribute to meeting these conditions. In order to do so, three forms of complimentary actions are essential:

a. Strengthening of local and regional structures in order to develop in particular the potential of national structures and increase the involvement of the political milieu.

It is essential, in the medium and long terms, that coherent prevention and risk management systems are developed in each country and coordinated at national level, in other words systems which take an overall view of the problems that need resolving and which enjoy the necessary political support for carrying out action. In order to attain these goals; DIPECHO can, for the moment, limit its action mainly to two geographical levels; local and regional levels.

Apart from being of direct benefit in emergency situations, the strengthening of local structures contributes to increasing awareness at a community level, firmly encourages self management and may lead to real operational capacities on this level. However, strengthening local structures does not only mean providing information and training. Actions which are too isolated or specific cannot guarantee sustainability or efficiency. Ideas and recommendations must therefore be accompanied by demonstration projects, which could also involve national structures. It is therefore important for DIPECHO to support projects which meet these conditions and, in general and wherever possible, to encourage integrated projects which link risk prevention to sustainable development.

A second possible field of action for DIPECHO, which complements the first, is on a regional level. The role of promotion and coordination of risk reduction actions, carried out by regional bodies, should also be strengthened. CEPREDENAC needs support in this area, especially to convince the political milieu. The action plan drawn up by this organisation is coherent, but its structure is still fragile. The situation in the Caribbean where a discussion must quickly begin between the various regional bodies and the different countries, so as to implement a genuine regional risk prevention programme.

Locally and regionally based actions should, through their powers of demonstration and the pressure they create, contribute gradually to developing the potential of national structures and attracting the interest of the political milieu.

b. Heightening awareness, informing, persuading and developing tools to assist decision-making

To complement, and in harness with, these initiatives, it is essential that actions are developed to heighten awareness and provide information at all geographical and social levels. Concepts of prevention (in a global sense, in harness with sustainable development) should be divulged.

National and regional information networks should be developed and exchanges between scientists, technicians and decision-makers, facilitated. At the same time, however, for these discussions to be productive, it would be useful to develop tools to assist decision-making which should, first of all, be tools of persuasion. The best ideas, in themselves, will not be enough to summon up decision-makers. Risk is only a virtual concept and disasters big enough to generate action do not occur frequently enough in relationship to politicians’ timescales. It is therefore essential to make very concrete statements based on:

- realities in the field (effects of natural disasters; effects of risk reduction programmes which means making real assessments);

- appropriate studies (especially economic studies on cost-effectiveness or cost-advantages intended to gauge the advantages of prevention);

- attractive presentations (clear arguments, stripped of scientific jargon, user-friendly maps, summary diagrams, etc.).

c. Taking advantage of the existence of sustainable development programmes to integrate risk prevention

The interest of integrating risk prevention in sustainable development programmes has already been shown (development impossible without taking into account the risks in very exposed regions; possible action on basic vulnerability factors; idea of risk reduction better accepted by the public). However, this integration is rarely achieved in the region and development programmes sometimes even contribute to increasing vulnerability to disasters.

A dialogue must therefore take place, from the moment programmes are conceived, between the development organisations and the specialist organisations in risk reduction. Consideration of the development programmes currently implemented in Central America and the Caribbean would also be welcome (in particular European Community , Member States and UNDP programmes, etc.). There are many opportunities for including risk prevention and DIPECHO could contribute to facilitating this process.

2. Special recommendations for Central America

Central American countries (except for Belize) display a certain linguistic, cultural and political homogeneity. Problems to be managed as far as risk reduction is concerned are also generally of the same kind, in spite of some significant differences as regards the nature and frequency of natural hazards and vulnerability. The existence of CEPREDENAC is in itself indicative of this regional coherence.

The implementation of preparedness and prevention programmes at a regional level is not only possible but would also be welcome. A strategic and political framework exists in the form of the PRRD (Plan Regional de Reduccie Desastres) launched by CEPREDENAC in the framework of SICA activities (Central American Integration System). Moreover, analysis of programmes that are under way or in the pipeline suggests that several risk reduction projects (for example, the FEMID projects funded by Germany) intend to carry out this regional expansion straightaway, with pilot schemes launched at the same time in several countries in the region.

Whilst the regional approach is to be welcomed, there is no shortage of pitfalls. The difficulty of coordinating existing programmes, which are often very closely linked to one another (for example, warning systems and preparedness of local communities) has been noted. Moreover, an experiment cannot be exported unless it has been correctly assessed and the conditions for its application in other sites have been analysed. Questions can also be asked about the efficiency of multiplying pilot schemes, if they cannot be made general over the whole extent of areas which have identical problems to solve.

It would thus be useful, to complement the lines of action recommended for both Central America and the Caribbean, to give particular support to CEPREDENAC so that it can, directly or indirectly, through national structures, play an important role in the assessment, coordination and strategic development of risk reduction programmes in the region.

Owing to the small area of the countries in the region (about 500,000 square km for all six countries), it is also important to consider the question of national borders whether it be a matter of preparedness, prevention or emergency management. Natural hazards can develop on either side of a border, in similar conditions (as, for example, in the case of floods in the mountainous zone where the borders of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras meet). However, surveillance and emergency management conditions can be quite different (for example, there are several hydro-meteorological surveillance instruments in Costa Rica but hardly any on the other side of the border in Panama).

Against this background, DIPECHO, in collaboration with CEPREDENAC and the different countries in the region, could facilitate cross border risk management methodologies, like those which have already been implemented elsewhere and in other areas by the EC (for the Red Cross and civilians protection organisations) or by other bodies (for example, cross border water management between the United States and Canada).

3. Special recommendations for the Caribbean

In contrast to Central America, the Caribbean islands are characterised by their heterogeneity and linguistic, cultural and political divisions. Risk management is also more varied than in Central America, given the nature and frequency of hazards and, perhaps above all, owing to significantly different vulnerability conditions from one island to another: great diversity in socio-economic characteristics and populations (which is a disadvantage for the bigger island) and area (which is a disadvantage for the smaller ones owing to the proportionally higher costs incurred after each disaster).

There is no structure specialising in risk reduction over the whole region, in the same way as CEPREDENAC in Central America. CDERA includes only CARICOM countries, or in other words 14% of the population and overall area of the Caribbean islands (or 20% and 38% respectively if Belize is included and Cuba omitted). Moreover, it includes only the English speaking countries. The other islands have their own risk management structures, except for the French, American or, to a lesser extent, Dutch territories.

It is hard to imagine, in the current context, the existence of a structure which would cover the whole region. However, it would be useful, in the framework of DIPECHO, and in addition to the recommendations already outlined for both Central America and the Caribbean, to channel efforts in three complimentary directions:

a. Facilitate discussions between CDERA, the OECS and CARIFORUM so as to determine the most relevant geographical scale (or scales) for action and to develop a regional action plan.

Whilst CDERA is a privileged partner, insofar as it is the only risk reduction structure operating in the region, other initiatives have also been noted. Actions carried out by the OECS (which groups together some of the islands that come under CDERA), on disaster preparedness are still limited, but they highlight a desire for independence from CDERA. The political commitment pledged in the framework of the second CARIFORUM countries programme (a wider framework therefore than CDERA’s, since it includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti), has also identified the reduction of natural disasters as a future field for activity.

It is the right time, it would appear, for discussions to be opened between these different organisations, which cover different areas (but fit together) within the same region, so as to reach an agreement on relevant scales for action and a regional action plan. DIPECHO could contribute to facilitating such discussions.

b. Encourage exchanges between the countries in the region

The heterogeneity which has been identified within the Caribbean islands is an obstacle to exchanges or at least tends to limit them to certain countries, while there are many common problems to be tackled, over the whole region, in order to reduce risks. The idea of exchanges must also be understood in its broadest sense.

This may involve basic contacts and exchanges of information through conferences or workshops, or the creation of common databases. It may also involve regional preparedness and prevention programmes developed by CDERA countries or at any other level as stipulated by CARIFORUM, once the regional action plan has been established.

The development of genuine regional solidarity in order better to manage emergencies, regardless of status or the social and cultural context, would also be welcome. This could take the form of various measures such as the mobilisation of health teams, provision of food supplies or making action and relief means, which only some privileged islands benefit from, generally available.

c. Take into account the distinctive characteristics of Haiti

Special attention should be given to Haiti in the framework of the DIPECHO programme. With the exception of volcanic eruptions, this country is exposed to all hazards, including drought. It is also the poorest and most vulnerable country in the region. It does not yet belong to any regional risk reduction structure and, moreover, the fact that French is the spoken language hardly favours exchanges with the other countries in the region which are mostly Spanish or English speaking. Haiti is thus a special case and its distinctive features mean that the association of risk prevention with development programmes are even more necessary there than elsewhere.