Disaster management under pressure in Nicaragua

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction – Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean

By David Singh

GENEVA, 28 October 2011 – As the number of people in Central America affected by tropical depression 12-E rises to 1.9 million, the UN has launched its second flash appeal in two days and is now asking for US$14.3 million to assist Nicaragua which is being devastated by heavy rainfall and floods.

This new appeal is based on preliminary data by Nicaragua’s National System for Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Response which puts the number of people affected by the continuous heavy rains at 133,858.

Sixteen people have lost their lives while over 10,000 are currently located in 102 emergency shelters. Floods have also destroyed more than 200 water sources and over 2,300 latrines. Vital infrastructure has been severely damaged which now prohibits access to affected areas as debris, floods and landslides have made many roads impassable.

Assistance is being urgently sought for populations in the seven departments of the country most affected by the rains with the least coping capacity according to official vulnerability assessments – Chinandega; León; Managua; Estelí: Matagalpa; Nueva Segovia; and Madriz.

“The ongoing disaster in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America highlights the critical need to continue planning and efforts to mitigate disaster risks and impacts,” observes Ricardo Mena, Head of UNISDR’s Americas Office.

Nicaragua, a party to the “Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) - Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters”, is described by the World Bank’s GFDRR as “a leader in Central America because of its legal framework that enables a comprehensive and multi-sectoral approach to disaster risk management (DRM)”. This framework has resulted in a comprehensive National Disaster Prevention and Attention Plan and the creation of the National System for Disaster management and Prevention (SINAPRED).

According to Mena, “In recent years over 30 local governments in Nicaragua have engaged in land use planning based on risk analysis. They approached this by integrating hazard, vulnerability and risk maps in urban growth planning. Continued investments at the local level, however, are needed to enhance preparedness and longer-term disaster risk reduction”.

“Obviously, disaster risk reduction is prominently on the radar in Nicaragua”, states Margareta Wahlström, Chief of the UN Disaster Risk Reduction Office (UNISDR). “Amongst other positive actions, the decentralization of DRM responsibilities and its positioning as a national development policy are critical steps in the right direction. As we have said in many other countries in Latin America and around the world we are calling for increased investment in local action; and of course we have been pushing for the inclusion of DRM within the framework of national development programmes for the longest time.

“What these floods highlight is that despite sterling efforts, no country has the luxury of resting on its laurels when it comes to disasters”, states Mena. “Nicaragua still has much to do. Comprehensive legislation is required for land use planning if accumulation of new vulnerabilities is to be avoided. Actions to address existing disaster risks such as retrofitting of buildings and relocating people from high risk areas is still a main challenge for Nicaragua, while awareness as well as capacity building at local level requires a lot more work.”

And the World Bank states that the Government of Nicaragua has yet to develop a financial strategy that will ensure medium- to long-term DRM for the country.

“Obviously these unusual floods in Central America are linked to the changes we are seeing in climate and clearly herald a whole new disaster scenario that defies conventional thinking and methods”, states Wahlström. “Governments such as Nicaragua’s need to factor this in; what worked yesterday may not or does not work today or tomorrow. Obviously if the weather changes the rules then we too have to change how we engage”.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that although the Government of Nicaragua is responding quickly and effectively to the crisis, there are still significant gaps as confirmed by the Government itself, UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) and in country UN Agencies.

Tropical Depression 12-E arrived in Central America just over two weeks ago. Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico and Belize have all been affected are in various states of alert. On Wednesday OCHA also issued a flash appeal for US$ 15.7 million for El Salvador.

Nicaragua ranks second among countries most affected by tropical storms and 30th among countries most affected by earthquakes.

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