Managing and Reducing Disaster Risk
By Dialogo April 01, 2010
Latin America and the Caribbean are among the most disasterprone regions in the world, suffering relentless hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, droughts and floods. Tropical storms have intensified during the past few decades because of global warming and the weather phenomenon known as El Niño, according to a study by the U.K.-based Humanitarian Policy Group, or HPG.
Governments in the region acknowledge disaster risk management is part of their responsibility to protect the approximately 375 million residents who live in disaster-prone areas, as reported by HPG. These nations have traditionally used their respective armed forces as first responders in natural disasters. Civil defense committees are also established to organize and coordinate relief and rescue operations, per the Inter-American Development Bank, or IDB. However, proactive disaster response programs have improved with the formulation of national preparedness plans and new institutions for disaster risk management.
These programs must take place before and after disasters and focus on hazards, economic or physical vulnerabilities, or post-disaster damage control. They also include planned zoning and building code adjustments, early warning systems and government emergency response plans for public awareness and funding.
Urban sprawl in earthquake-prone areas, combined with inadequate zoning and poor quality housing, creates extremely vulnerable conditions to seismic activity. A city’s vulnerability is significantly reduced through the implementation of zone planning to determine risk levels, the establishment of hazard building codes and other regulatory instruments.
The most obvious way to reduce risk is moving out of hazardprone areas. Beyond that, specialists think the most effective approach is microzoning. This technique consists of surveying seismic hazard and the type of soil for each risk area to determine adequate building construction.
Hazard Building Codes
Hazard building codes require materials such as rubber and counterweights in the design of new construction to allow buildings to bend and sway during an earthquake. Some buildings, however, are purposefully designed to break at strategic points. Chile uses this building strategy, called strong column/weak beam construction, in which buildings are held up by reinforced concrete columns and steel frames. Nonreinforced concrete beams are joined to the reinforced concrete columns to support the floors and roof. During an earthquake, the nonreinforced concrete beams break and the reinforced columns and steel frame do not. This safely releases the earthquake’s destructive energy while keeping the overall structure intact.
Early Warning Systems
Information gathered regularly from multiple early warning systems improves forecasting and real-time warning capabilities, positively affecting the stability of a population’s economic health and development.
The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, or GOES system, overseen by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, plays a critical role in weather forecasting. Two GOES satellites hover continuously above the Americas at the equator, providing constant observation of the atmosphere. The information they gather is used to locate “triggers” that create severe weather such as tornadoes, flash floods, hailstorms and hurricanes.
Through an interagency agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development, NOAA provides access to GOES weather and climate data to members of the World Meteorological Organization. In Central America, GOES data is collected by the Costa Rica National Meteorological Institute and transmitted via the Internet to surrounding countries.
Imager: Produces images of Earth’s land, oceans and clouds
Sounder: Deduces atmosphere temperature and moisture profiles. Measures surface and cloud-top temperatures
Geosynchronous Orbit: The GOES satellites’ orbit matches the speed of the Earth’s rotation, allowing the satellite to hover over a fixed position on the surface. Two GOES satellites work together to observe 60 percent of the Earth.
The Early Warning System for Central America, or SATCA, web platform is an important component to disaster preparedness and response in Central America and the Caribbean. Created by the U.N. World Food Program’s Emergency Preparedness and Response team from El Salvador, SATCA tracks developing trends in natural disasters by integrating available data from more than a dozen leading scientific organizations, national governments, donors and other international organizations. Natural disasters can be monitored from the website, improving preparedness and response among humanitarian agencies and national authorities.
Tsunami-watch services are offered by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s tsunami warning centers in Hawaii and Alaska. Utilizing the Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis system, or DART, to detect earthquakes and monitor sea level, NOAA’s warning centers process the real-time data crucial to creating accurate forecasts of tsunami waves.
The Caribbean Tsunami Warning Centre, or CTWC, is a new facility that will be added to DART. The center has funding from the United Nations and a plan to build its headquarters in Puerto Rico. CTWC will monitor the Caribbean, the North Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, North America and Central America. The facility will also help to standardize national protocols and procedures in the region to reduce response times.
The Caribbean Tsunami Information Center is planning to open in Barbados to educate local communities on tsunami warnings.
Government agencies and nongovernmental groups are conducting public awareness campaigns to inform citizens about the risks of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as how to prepare for them. As part of the effort, emergency information is disseminated through media broadcasts, school programs and public advertisements. Military forces across the region are training to prepare for catastrophes.
Colombia Emergency Drill
In 2009, the Pacific coast town of Tumaco, Colombia, held its second simulation drill to evaluate its planned response to an earthquake or tsunami.
Local radio and television stations broadcast the steps to follow during the emergency drill, along with the city’s evacuation routes and safety zones for evacuees: the local port authority, La Florida Airport, Nariño Park and Comercio Street, and local soccer fields.
More than 8,000 people from 22 educational centers were evacuated to safety zones during the emergency drill.
The simulation was coordinated by local and national groups, including the Local Committee for Disaster Prevention and Response, local businesses, the airport authority and military forces. Support was provided by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Regional and international entities assist countries to define needs and to share information, training opportunities and projects related to risk management programs.
The Andean Committee for Disaster Prevention and Care caprade.org/caprade/index.php
Central American Coordination Center for the Prevention of Natural Disasters www.sica.int/cepredenac/
The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency cdema.org/
The Regional Disaster Information Center for Latin America and the Caribbean www.crid.or.cr/crid/ing/index_ing.html
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs ochaonline.un.org/
The Pan American Health Organization new.paho.org/
U.S. Agency for International Development www.usaid.gov/
The region’s inadequate financial preparedness for disasters increases debt and magnifies the impact on long-term growth. Disaster response programs and reconstruction efforts require the establishment of national reserve funds and the availability of insurance and low-cost loans.
Developed to reduce/cancel principal debt amounts in the event of catastrophe losses.
Flexible catastrophe bond series
Developed by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development
Mexico was the first country to use the program
$290 million in bonds issued in October 2009
Provides three years of coverage for earthquakes and hurricanes
Contingent Credit Lines
Bilateral/international assistance in the form of grants and loans under standard or preferential conditions.
The main financial resource used in the region
Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option
Offered by the World Bank to Costa Rica, Colombia and Guatemala for disaster recovery
Following the magnitude 6.1 earthquake in Costa Rica in January 2009, the World Bank provided funds within 24 hours of the government’s request
Catastrophe Risk Insurance
Guarantees immediate access to funds when natural disasters strike.
Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility
International donors contributed to initial reserves
Relies on its own reserves and reinsurance to finance itself
Risk-pool of Caribbean nations saves the countries approximately 40 percent in individual premium payments
Provides the Caribbean Community access to cash if hit by a hurricane or earthquake
Natural disaster reserve funds that the local, state and federal governments of Colombia are legally obligated to earmark from their budgets