|A World Safe from Natural Disasters - The Journey of Latin America and the Caribbean (PAHO)|
The 1990s has been declared the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The mid-point in this International Decade and the World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction provide a golden opportunity to showcase the progress of Latin America and the Caribbean in reducing the impact of disasters on life and property. It is also an appropriate time to suggest areas in need of additional attention at the national level during the second half of the Decade and beyond.
During the first half of the IDNDR, each country in Latin America and the Caribbean made significant progress in the field of disaster management, or as we call it today, disaster reduction. However, this journey toward a safer Region by no means began in 1990.
The principal purpose of this publication is to remind policy makers and the international community that a modest but sustained investment in disaster reduction in Latin America and the Caribbean has saved, and will continue to save, in a non-dramatic but effective way, a large number of lives and avoid tragedies which would otherwise drain resources for humanitarian assistance. A second purpose is to share the optimism and enthusiasm of disaster professionals at witnessing a slow but steady evolution in the Region - from the fatalistic acceptance of disasters to the determination to take steps to avoid them whenever possible or minimize their effects through long-term disaster reduction planning.
Natural disasters will continue to impact critical facilities such as hospitals and schools, public infrastructure and housing. However, we can reduce the vulnerability of our communities to these natural hazards, that is, the potential losses can be dramatically diminished, by selecting safer locations and improving design and construction techniques and, most importantly, by ensuring that development decisions impact positively on vulnerability. The technical knowledge necessary to reduce risks from natural disasters has been available for some time.
The most lasting effect of the IDNDR could and should be to establish a disaster prevention "culture" in which safety from disasters is recognized as a basic requirement of individuals and of society in order to attain a "complete state of physical and mental well-being" or, in other words, health, as defined by the Alma-Ata Conference of 1978.
Carlyle Guerra de Macedo
Pan American Sanitary Bureau