On the Road to the Kobe World Conference: Latin America Experts Prepare Disaster Mitigation Agenda


More than 100 experts from 18 Latin American countries met in Nicaragua in April to review the current state of disaster vulnerability in the Region, record the achievements to date in risk reduction, and prepare an action plan to reduce vulnerability in health facilities and water systems over the next ten years. They stressed the need for these important topics to be debated in national political agendas, be supported by the necessary budgetary funding and be backed by a legal framework that will help ensure the mandate is carried forward.

As a preparatory meeting for the U.N.’s Second World Conference on Disaster Reduction, which will be held in Kobe, Japan next January, participants divided into two workshops to study issues related to vulnerability reduction in health facilities and water systems. Recommendations were proposed that will be introduced at the Kobe conference.

Health facilities

As a baseline, participants analyzed the recommendations of the International Conference on Disaster Mitigation in Health Facilities, held in 1996 in Mexico, noting that the work is far from complete and efforts must be redoubled to guarantee that health facilities continue functioning in the aftermath of disasters. The technical and scientific advances in this field and the successful examples of even those countries with scant economic resources demonstrate that it is possible to reduce vulnerability when the decision makers in the health sector take the appropriate action. One point that has severely affected these initiatives was identified as the absence of consistent funding for maintenance, which leads to progressive deterioration of infrastructure and equipment in all health facilities.

How can governments protect the lives of their citizens, the costly investment they have made in health infrastructure and the functionality of these critical facilities in the aftermath of disasters? For this to happen, the participants concluded that it is essential that governments enact a national disaster mitigation policy that governs new health facilities and that they retrofit existing facilities located in high-risk areas.

Drinking water infrastructure

At this parallel workshop, participants concluded that both the knowledge and the technology exist to enable disaster-stricken developing countries to make drinking water available to the affected population. However, in order to change the paradigm that it is too costly to protect these systems, national authorities in the water and sanitation sector must familiarize themselves with current state-of-the-art knowledge and with hard-won experience and lessons learned in order to protect the health and development of the population.

One important point of agreement: not taking risk management into account during the planning and development of water services jeopardizes the safety of these systems and will make it difficult to achieve one of the Millennium Development Goals that seeks to “Halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.”

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