Cover Image
close this bookA World Safe from Natural Disasters - The Journey of Latin America and the Caribbean (PAHO)
close this folderChapter 1: No shortcuts to disaster reduction
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentFrom Ad Hoc response to preparedness
View the documentFrom preparedness to prevention
View the documentA new focus

From preparedness to prevention

Mexico, 19 September 1985: One of the largest metropolitan areas in the world is hit by a severe earthquake, putting the recently created metropolitan emergency plan to an exacting but successful test. There are conflicting reports, but it is estimated that 10,000 lives are lost in Mexico City. Despite this, the response of the health services is remarkable, thanks to adequately trained personnel, the smooth evacuation of unsafe facilities, and the redistribution of casualty cases across the metropolitan system. However, preparedness alone is not always sufficient, and one striking event sheds light on both its potential and its limitations: the collapse of a modern wing of the Juárez Hospital caused the death of patients as well as doctors and nurses who, ironically, were among the nation's best prepared to respond to mass casualties. Preparedness can alleviate the effects of natural disasters; it can't stop them.

Colombia, 13 November 1985: The Nevado del Ruiz volcano, active for several months, erupts violently. Within an hour, a mudslide triggered by melting snow, gathers rocks and other debris as it makes its way down the slopes of the mountain, burying an estimated 23,000 people. Compounding the national tragedy, a bitter controversy divides scientists and politicians about whether the human losses could have been prevented. The fact that maps of the at-risk areas were available but people were not moved from them illustrates the growing gap between the academic knowledge of nature hazards and how this knowledge is translated into potentially life-saving, but costly, preventive measures.