Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean
The Latin America and Caribbean region covers over 20 million square kilometres of landmass in the western hemisphere and is home to over 500 million people. Throughout its history, it has suffered a series of catastrophes caused by natural disasters. In addition, despite over 20 years of democratic governments, many Latin American countries are increasingly facing potential crises due to profound inequality, extreme poverty, economic stagnation and the growing impact of the Colombian conflict in neighbouring countries. The 2005 hurricane season was the most intense in recorded history, with 27 named storms. Fifteen of those became hurricanes, which were directly responsible for over 3,000 deaths, affected more than six million people and caused over US$ 133 billion in economic losses.
The number of disaster management organizations in the region and the high level of public awareness can sometimes lead to an overestimation of the current state of preparedness, response and mitigation capacity. In fact, commitments by national governments to fulfill their obligations vary from country to country and, given the multiplicity of actors, capacities and protocols at different levels, emergency coordination becomes very complex. One of the main functions of the OCHA Regional Office is to strengthen coordination mechanisms by leading the IASC Regional Task Force for Risk, Emergency and Disasters in Latin America and Caribbean (REDLAC). Members of this group include UN Agencies, donors and NGO regional offices working in disaster preparedness and response.
- Improve planning, monitoring and accountability in emergencies and transition contexts
- Strengthen systems for the provision of timely and quality information in support of humanitarian decision-making and response
- Help establish, update and revise the United Nations Disaster Management Team (UNDMT), the United Nations Emergency Technical Team (UNETE) and national disaster response agencies
- Improve regional inter-agency partnerships (RED-LAC)
- Ensure that the United Nation Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) system is operational in the region
During 2005 the regional office worked at two levels: with regional offices of humanitarian institutions based in Panama and, at the national level, with national emergency management authorities, UNCTs and other key humanitarian partners. Preparedness for response has been identified as one of the priority issues in the region. At the national level, four workshops were carried out to enhance the countries’ planning processes in the event of a natural disaster. The methodology used provided an efficient and simple Inter-Agency Emergency Response Plan Matrix that helped determine responsibilities and appropriate coordination mechanisms within the UN system and with national authorities and partners.
OCHA’s team developed new means of strengthening information sharing and coordination among all the organisations and agencies during the busy hurricane season. In this context, a Humanitarian Information Management workshop for Latin America and the Caribbean was held in Panama in August, organized by ReliefWeb and the Advocacy and Information Management Branch, in coordination with theregional office. Public information and information management surge support was provided by headquarters in support to hurricane preparedness. This support resulted in the development of a regional information management strategy.
In June 2005, the regional office supported Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, during his mission to Havana, Cuba, for the 10th Meeting of the Association of Caribbean States Special Committee on Natural Disasters. The office also supported the organization of a special two-day workshop, which resulted in the formulation of Lines of Action to be considered as guidelines by the Caribbean governments, the UN and other regional/international partners to enhance preparedness and response for the 2005 hurricane season.
The office supported RED-LAC. The main activities carried out by this group in 2005 included 10 meetings held during and after emergency situations caused by the hurricanes in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as joint missions for the development of preparedness workshops in Guyana, Venezuela, Mexico and Jamaica.
The regional office was directly involved in four UNDAC missions deployed to Guatemala, Guyana, El Salvador and Nicaragua. In the latter case, the UNDAC team was pre-deployed in preparation for the potential effects of the rapidly approaching Hurricane Beta.
Four emergency preparedness workshops were successfully completed in the region with the participation of the RDRA, who was accompanied by at least one representative of the regional UN Agency offices (WFP, UNJLC, UNICEF, UNDP/Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery). These included the establishment, under the umbrella of the UNDMT, of UN Emergency Technical Teams tasked with the formulation of inter-agency contingency plans. One capacity-building workshop could not be completed due to the severe hurricane season in 2005.
OCHA staff monitored hurricane activities in the region, collected country information from various sources and produced Country Situation Sheets and Daily Field Situation Reports. These were updated on a daily basis and disseminated among RED-LAC members, donors and other actors in the region to support decision-making regarding priority relief activities. The reports also served as the basis for the formulation of OCHA situation reports at headquarters level.
Standard materials for conducting contingency planning workshops were developed. Among the results of RED-LAC meetings were a new mechanism of preparedness, including a “kit” with documents prepared by OCHA to facilitate the formalities required when requesting assistance. By leading the RED-LAC, the regional office was able to create a platform for the exchange of information, and develop actions for the optimisation of natural disaster preparedness and response in the region.
The regional office acted as an efficient interface between the UNDAC system and regional/national organisations for the four UNDAC missions that took place in 2005 by establishing the necessary links and ensuring close collaboration. This helped improve the effectiveness of the UNDAC system.