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IDB promotes network for prevention and mitigation of natural disasters in Latin America, Caribbean

Government officials of Latin America and the Caribbean and international experts held November 15-16 the first meeting of the Regional Policy Dialogue’s Natural Disaster Network at the Inter-American Development Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The network discussed policy options to help prevent and mitigate disasters that caused deaths and direct losses of more than $20 billion in damages in the decade of the 1990s.

The Natural Disaster Network is part of the Regional Policy Dialogue sponsored by the IDB to promote a broad debate in Latin America and the Caribbean on strategic issues such as poverty reduction, education, commerce, transparency, environment, finance and macro-economy.

The general objective of the Regional Policy Dialogue is to create a space for countries to compare experiences and best practices, and to explore areas of regional cooperation in key issues for its participation in the process of globalization.

Dialogue networks are formed by high-ranking public sector officials that play a key role in the design and implementation of public policy in their countries.

The recent meeting was based on a study titled "National Systems and Institutional Mechanisms for the Comprehensive Management of Disaster Risk".

The document, which takes a multisectoral and multidisciplinary approach, analyzes the characteristics and economic and political sustainability of international systems and mechanisms that deal with natural disaster risk and the establishment of national systems of prevention and mitigation.

An average of 40 major natural disasters a year affect Latin America and the Caribbean, which is in second place, after Asia, in the frequency of these destructive phenomena. Discussing the growing risks and losses, the country delegates and panelists centered their discussion on a review of the availability of national and regional mechanisms to deal with the problem. Because of the complexity of the subject, the dialogue on instruments to reduce risk and the role of international organizations played a preponderant role in the discussions.

The panelists included: Concepción Garza, director, Fondo Nacional de Desastres Naturales, México; Franklin McDonald, chief executive officer, National Environmental Planning Agency, Jamaica; and Carlos Costa, director, Dirección de Política Ambiental, Departamento Nacional de Planeación, Colombia.

The experts discussed new policies and the regional political and financial sustainability of prevention and mitigation measures. An important aspect that was reviewed was the role of local governments in public planning and investments for local contingencies.

The panelists on political and financial sustainability were: CDERA regional coordinator, Jeremy Collymore, Barbados; and CEPREDENAC executive secretary, Panama, Jorge Ayala Marroquín. Caroline Clarke and Kim Staking, senior IDB specialists, moderated the panels.

Walter Arensberg, chief of the Environmental Division of the IDB, pointed out the importance of local training in natural disaster prevention and mitigation and the identification of centers for this purpose. He also emphasized the importance of coordinating regional and international efforts with governments of the region to lessen the catastrophic impact of macroeconomic costs caused by the disasters and the increase in poverty and the destruction of communities.

At the end of the meeting, country delegates unanimously elected Alberto Maturana Palacios, director of the Interior Ministry of Chile’s National Emergencies Office, as president of the network, to act as liaison among the delegates and the Bank.

Christof Kuechemann, deputy manager of the IDB Department of Sustainable Development, in a closing address urged the adoption of a systematic vision to deal with the complexity of natural disasters. He also reassured IDB member governments of continued support by the Bank for the mitigation and prevention of natural disasters, and he reminded officials of the importance of the business community and nongovernment organizations. "The role of governments is key, but the private sector and civil society represent diversity," he said.

The IDB provided $1.5 billion in financing between 1996 and 2000 for natural disaster prevention, mitigation and reconstruction in response to the El Niño phenomenon in Argentina, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay and Peru; earthquakes in Colombia and El Salvador; mudslides in Venezuela; and hurricanes in Central America and the Caribbean, among other projects.

IDB financing, in addition to technical assistance, includes a facility for emergency reconstruction that provides loans of up to $20 million; a sector facility for disaster prevention of up to $5 million per loan; the reprogramming of existing loans so they may be applied to natural disaster reconstruction and mitigation; and an emergency technical cooperation fund.

The six strategic work areas identified by the IDB and the countries for reduction of disaster risk are the following:

•National systems for prevention and response to disasters.

•Incorporation of prevention as a key element in planning.

•Reduction of the vulnerability to countries to disasters.

•Promotion of participation by the private sector.

•Promotion of leadership and training in the region.

•Obtaining information on risks for decision-making.

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