Following the El Niño occurrence of 1982-83, the member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) expressed the need for technical cooperation in natural hazard management. In response, the Department of Regional Development and Environment (DRDE) initiated the Natural Hazard Project with support from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). OAS by that time had been providing services in regional development planning for over twenty years and in 1984 published Integrated Regional Development Planning: Guidelines and Case Studies from OAS Experience. In keeping with the principles set forth in that book, the OAS approach incorporates natural hazard management issues into the development planning process.
The services of technical cooperation, training, and technology transfer focus on hazard assessment and mitigation as elements of the processes of environmental assessment, natural resource evaluation, and project formulation. The technical cooperation concentrates on hazard and vulnerability assessments, inclusion of hazard mitigation measures in the formulation of investment projects, use of geographic information systems for mapping and analysis, and urban watershed planning for hazard and resource management. Training includes workshops and formal courses in a variety of aspects of disaster mitigation and integrated development planning. Personnel from virtually every member state have been trained in new hazard management skills. Technology transfer to date has focused on the establishment of emergency information management systems, including provision of equipment and training of personnel. The effectiveness of reducing the impact of disasters by including natural hazard management as an element of development planning has been confirmed by the recipient countries and by other international organizations.
After seven years of field work it is now possible to prepare this synthesis of OAS experience with natural hazards. The material comes with a broad set of objectives, a reflection of the breadth of the issues involved in hazard mitigation. At the policy level, it is hoped that national planning ministries, development agencies, and international financing institutions will be encouraged to systematically include analyses of natural hazards in their economic development programs. Specifically, it is hoped that the experience will persuade:
- development agencies in the member states to incorporate natural hazard considerations into the process of integrated development planning;
- international technical cooperation and financing agencies to incorporate hazard considerations into the formulation of investment projects at the earliest stages;
- governments and financing agencies to place more emphasis on risk awareness in evaluating investment projects, and to assume a stance of risk avoidance rather than risk neutrality; and
- bilateral and multilateral aid donors to re-evaluate the distribution of their disaster assistance funds, increasing the proportion for prevention activities.
At the operational level, it is hoped that development practitioners can be provided with some of the tools for conducting natural hazard assessments and implementing mitigation measures. Among these tools are sectoral vulnerability analyses, mechanisms for incorporating hazard mitigation measures into development strategies and projects, and applications of geographic information systems in hazard management.
To reach both policymakers and practitioners, OAS has prepared complementary documents, each for a distinct audience. The present document, Disasters, Planning, and Development: Managing Natural Hazards to Reduce Loss, is directed at policy-level personnel in the member states, international development banks, and technical cooperation agencies. It is divided into two main sections:
- Part I presents general principles for integrating hazard management into development planning and project formulation. Its main intent is to establish two ideas: that the damage caused by natural hazards is great and growing but can be reduced; and that the best way to reduce the impact of natural hazardous events is in the context of integrated development planning.
- Part II is a set of guidelines for applying the methodologies of hazard management. Avoiding excessive detail, it is intended to provide decision-makers with enough orientation for discussing the issue with technical staff, reaching conclusions, and evaluating work accomplished.
A companion document entitled Primer on Natural Hazard Management in Integrated Regional Development Planning is directed at planners and other development practitioners and is essentially a technical reference work. It is a compilation and analysis of field experience not available from other sources.
It is hoped that these principles, guidelines, and technical approaches will help planners and decision-makers gain an understanding of the relationship between natural hazard mitigation and the development planning process in Latin America and the Caribbean. These publications come at a time when the region is facing the challenge presented by the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly for the 1990s. These documents demonstrate that reducing the impact of natural hazards can only be done by changing the way development takes place. They have been prepared to contribute in some small way to that change.
Kirk P. Rodgers
Department of Regional Development and Environment
Organization of American States