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Reducing disaster risk in Latin America and the Caribbean: 


the balance after 30 years

Over three decades of efforts to reduce disaster risk, advances have been made in knowledge about risk and its manifestation in disasters and the factors that influence its construction have been identified; however, according to RAR, these efforts could be augmented when it comes to incorporating disaster risk prevention management into national agendas. 


The RAR argues that international agreements have shown increasing adherence by countries and served as an incentive to generate material that enabled various social groups and government sectors to understand risk more broadly. The report argues that, with its bias in favor of the notion of disasters as purely natural phenomena, the 1990-1999 International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) [1] became a key motivator for generating knowledge about the social and economic processes responsible for the construction of disaster risk and has given rise to the theoretical approaches being used today.   


The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015[2] and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030[3] incorporated this understanding of risk by creating specific instruments to guide governments and indicators and mechanisms with which to measure progress. The RAR concludes that, despite their merits, successfully implementing these frameworks will mean overcoming challenges such as how to translate knowledge of risk into public policies and concrete actions, how to cope with institutional and financial weaknesses, and how to deal with the lack of transparency and corruption, amongst others. Experts acknowledge that the biggest challenge will be for countries and the international community to remain firm in their commitment to fulfill the goals of the Sendai Framework and the 2030 Agenda.[4]


“One of the main gaps is found between theory and practice. We must rise to the challenge of creating synergies between academia and management, adjusting the needs of research and the creation of an institutional culture to the government’s political calendars in order to implement a given policy”  Raquel Lejteger, architect specializing in disaster risk management, consultant to the United Nations, co-author of the RAR


The RAR confirms that data collection systems must be boosted in order to know the real scope of disasters. Although progress has been made with respect to the availability of information, it is still necessary to improve the quality of data and increase the coverage of countries, as well as invest in standardizing the methodologies, so that figures are unified and are accessible to non-specialized people and decision-makers. The report indicates that Latin America and the Caribbean helped create the DesInventar data management system, which was adopted by the United Nations, and countries have broadened the coverage of databases for intensive and extensive risks. The report states that “Databases currently available can be improved and it is likely that new sources or methodologies for gaining better understanding of risk and their effects will be available in the future. Until that happens, however, it will be necessary to continue updating and improving them” in order to understand the real impact on the territory.


“We need data to show the relevance of disaster risk reduction and to position the issue on the public agenda. However, data in and of itself is not relevant: it is only relevant to the extent that we can do our own analysis. Many countries face difficulties in data collection, storage. And reporting, and this complicates the analytical capacity that we must have.” Carlos Picado, Chief, Strategic Development Unit, National Emergencies Commission (CNE, acronym in Spanish) of Costa Rica


As expressed in RAR, despite the fact that there is increased understanding of risk, the theory and practice of risk management will continue along different paths if risk drivers are not identified and addressed. Experts indicate that, although Latin America and the Caribbean quickly accepted the idea that risk is the product of society interacting with the environment, its territorial management and social inequality, as well public policy actions, focused on emergency response are not eliminating the factors that help create risk.


The RAR states that investing in reducing the impact of disasters involves working on governance for risk management that finally abandons a reactive approach and critically reviews the development models being applied in the region. One of the pillars of governance for risk management is the addition of aspects relating to accountability and participation. The report underscores that, in Latin America and the Caribbean, civil society’s initiatives have played a key role in generating knowledge and in implementing risk management in the territory. “The strengthening and added weight of the role of governments and other local stakeholders should be a pillar of the transformation in risk governance in the coming years.”[5]


“There is a mismatch between theory and practice and one of the huge challenges we face during this decade is to find a way to clarify the practical aspect, so that we can help many vulnerable populations.” Pascal Girot, University of Costa Rica, School of Geography


The RAR reflects the fact that the effects of the sanitary and economic crises born of the COVID-19 pandemic have uncovered an uncertain future that forecasts adverse effects on national employment levels, poverty, inequality, and economic growth; this in addition to the disasters triggered by climate change and the displacement of people underway in the region. That is why the report calls for questioning the development models used in normal times and for searching for a radical paradigm shift, looking further into the causes that paved the way for a disaster of such magnitude.


[1] Declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989.

[2] Approved on January 22, 2005, United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

[3] Adopted at the United Nations Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, held in March 2015, in Sendai, Japan.

[4] Established based on the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development “The future we want”.

[5] RAR, Regional report on assessment of disaster risk in Latin America and the Caribbean, UNDRR, Chapter 5.

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