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The Central American isthmus is a highly vulnerable region to natural hazards, and regional transportation infrastructure is often damaged by different kinds of disasters. Despite the recognition of disastersí threats, government policies, international donors, financial lending institutions and private sector actions have not resulted in substantial measures to reduce losses.

Since natural events that become disasters do not acknowledge frontiers, this report examines regional as well as national opportunities to reduce losses of critical transportation infrastructure caused by natural events. Building on the activities in emergency preparedness and response, and a few vulnerability reduction measures that already exist in Central American countries, this report identifies opportunities for, and constraints to, cooperation through "mutual assistance" within the Regional and internationally.

The transportation infrastructure is critical to the economy as well as the being the backbone of essential services after a disaster. In addition to the importance of transportation to each country, this is a critical sector for the region as products in one country are often transported across a neighboring country to reach a port for exportation. For example, products from Nicaragua, destined for Europe and the United States, move through Honduras to the Port of Cortes on the Gulf Coast. Therefore, the "disaster resilience" of road networks, bridges and ports as well as cooperation across international boundaries are vital to the smooth flow of goods and the economic prosperity of Central American countries.

This is not a report about how to keep the transportation system (airports, ports and roads) open for relief supplies. For example, an airport reopened for relief flights may still be operating at a huge loss of revenue because relief flights often pay reduced or no landing fees, no customs charges, etc. Also, reopening on a limited basis, e.g. for daylight hours only, because runway lighting has been damaged, can still result in a major loss of revenue.

Natural hazards threaten this critical component of the regionís economic infrastructure, and Hurricane Mitch was a "wake up call" to the sector, the economy and the population. This document identifies the need to make plans for the immediate restoration of critical transportation infrastructure and examines the potential role of Mutual Assistance Agreements to speed up economic restoration after a disastrous natural event.

The initial mandate of this document was to have a narrow focus: if major damage occurred, what agreements and formal mechanisms were in place to assist a transportation facility rapidly restore services? As the topic and the current situation were studied, a more detailed examination of the complex technical and institutional processes became necessary. Issues outside the process of damage assessment and assistance request procedures were identified that either facilitated the assistance or slowed and stopped the process. For example, the financial arrangements related to the request for goods, equipment and services eventually entered the decision making process. The availability of financing enabled the request to proceed, whereas, unclear or uncertain financing slowed or stalled the urgently needed assistance.

This document also treats the subject of vulnerability reduction of the transportation sector by examining the use of existing mechanisms and proposals for creating new mechanisms that can and should be used to lessen the likelihood of damage to infrastructure components that would necessitate outside assistance.

The methodology

This report identifies the most vulnerable components of each transportation mode or sub-sector (airports and air navigation, ports and harbors, roads and bridges). A questionnaire (see Appendix A and Appendix B) was sent to each ministry of transportation through their transportation planning unit, to regional transportation organizations and to specialists in each sub-sector. The primary question was, If a major natural event occurred and significant damage resulted, what critical part of your transportation infrastructure would fail and what assistance would required from outside your country? This question identified the critical components most likely to fail and the type of regional and international assistance that might be required to rapidly restore service, rehabilitate damaged components, and carry out reconstruction projects. The objective was restoration of service for long term economic purposes, not just for use in a disaster relief operation.

A similar question was asked in terms of the current and needed vulnerability reduction activities.

Once the specific components that might fail were identified, e.g. an airport control tower, a critical bridge or the harbor dredging capability to clear the shipping channel, etc. the next question was, What process or mechanism is in place (or needed) to obtain the required product or service necessary to rapidly restore the component to service?

Describing the process as to how requests for needed assistance to immediately restore critical transportation services is a major element of this document, and is more important than originally anticipated. Responses from national authorities and technical organizations, identified several important facets of this process, including:

Policy decisions as to whether to restore the critical component to its former condition or to rebuild it to a stronger disaster resistant standard;

Legal basis/authority for emergency actions, including extraordinary procurement authority;

Financial resources (a fund, loans or donations) to pay for the damaged componentís repair or reconstruction;

Donor considerations as to the role of international donors and financing institutions (resources for mitigation and stockpiling as well as disaster relief);

Technical analysis of the need and specifications for rebuilding in a more resilient manner;

Timing and the proximity of critical goods and services such as whether products, spare parts and services are available, where and when.

The contents of the document are as follows:

Part 1 identifies the critical transportation system components and their vulnerability by mode or sub-sector, e.g. air, maritime and land transport systems. (See Figures 1.1 through 3.4.) Also identified is the potential assistance that would be needed from outside the country and possible sources, divided between regional (within Central America) and international (outside the region).

Par 1 also identifies regional processes and mechanisms that are potential sources to provide goods and services to rapidly restore the proper functioning of the components. Also, current emergency processes and relationships involving both the public and private sectors are identified. The strategic plans and existing and proposed agreements of regional organizations are reviewed. In addition, processes and mechanisms for vulnerability reduction are reviewed.

Finally Part I reviews international disaster and emergency relationships and constraints, including donor governments, financial institutions and the private sector. Potentially useful model language for mutual assistance agreements are described and the elements to consider in future mutual assistance agreement are included. Also included in the review are processes and mechanisms for vulnerability reduction.

Part 2 contains the documentís conclusions and recommendations from all chapters.

The Appendices and Figures provide detailed information and summaries.

In summary, this investigation started with a review of government capabilities and needs. It was found that there are no formal regional or international mutual assistance agreements to assist the transportation sector rapidly restore service in case of a damaging natural event. Governments have the responsibility and the legal authority for a wide range of actions during emergency conditions, as outlined under existing emergency legislation in each country. One major constraint is the lack of financing mechanisms in place before the event that would enable the immediate procurement of goods and services after the event to rapidly repair or restore a critical transportation component. In addition, no government stockpiles critical components identified as necessary to immediately restore the critical services. The ministers of transportation identified regional organizations as their first resource for technical support in case of a major disastrous event. Despite changes and progress made after Hurricane Mitch, the transportation sector remains very vulnerable to the next potentially destructive, disastrous natural event.


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