OCHA in 2009 Cover Download Hi-res PDF (6.4 MB)

Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC)


  • ROLAC provided active support to significant disasters in five countries, although 2009 was relatively quiet.
  • HCTs have or are being established in 10 countries, vastly improving local emergency preparedness and response capacities.
  • Strengthened regional coordination mechanisms, particularly through improving the integration of the Risk, Emergency and Disaster Task Force for Latin America and the Caribbean (REDLAC) and reinforcing relations with sub-regional organizations.
  • ROLAC continued to promote and support multi-hazard preparedness mechanisms, which take into account a range of natural disasters, including epidemics, and are thus considered more robust. For example, the regional forum “MITCH + 10” brought together regional actors to create a Central American Policy for Integrated Risk Management.
  • The Regional Humanitarian Information Network (Redhum) has representatives in nine countries. It has contributed to a 40 per cent increase in Spanish publications posted on ReliefWeb and related to Latin America.

The Latin American and Caribbean region is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, including hurricanes, storms and droughts. One third of the population is exposed to natural catastrophes. Global economic crises, pandemics, food insecurity, urbanization and chronic poverty make for an increasingly complex environment for humanitarian work.

Comparatively few surge missions were deployed in 2009 due to a relatively low number of natural disasters in the region in that year, and a quiet hurricane season due to the El Niño phenomenon. Nevertheless, ROLAC provided direct staff support to help in several disasters, including the Costa Rica earthquake in January; the drought and related nutritional crisis in Guatemala in August/September; the floods in El Salvador and Nicaragua in November; and the drought in Honduras in December. A more severe hurricane season is expected in 2010, making it likely that more surge missions will be deployed.

In 2009, approximately $24.8 million was granted to Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Uruguay through emergency financial mechanisms coordinated by OCHA. They included Emergency Cash Grants and CERF funding.In 2009, ROLAC’s main focus was on fortifying regional structures, particularly REDLAC and sub-regional disaster management organizations. ROLAC took part in several missions aimed at improving risk reduction and preparedness.

ROLAC supported country teams in developing more effective disaster preparedness response plans. This led to a broader participation of humanitarian actors in other processes, notably identifying project priorities for CERF requests. Local governments were also receptive to the importance of a well-organized humanitarian coordination system. Ten HCTs are already in place or in the process of being established. ROLAC helped eight countries develop or update their inter-agency response plans. ROLAC will continue to work with United Nations Country Teams (UNCTs) and HCTs on looking for strategic partnerships and common approaches to maximize the use of limited resources. Alternative methods of distance learning and training will be explored, including for UNCTs/HCTs facing imminent emergencies.

In Honduras, two contingency planning missions led to a better understanding of the humanitarian consequences of the political crisis. The crisis culminated in the forcible removal and exile of the Honduran President by the Honduran military acting on the Supreme Court’s orders. In Peru, a REDLAC mission supported the HCT in setting up a cluster coordination structure and led to the development of a strategic plan, including a seismic risk study and preparedness planning for high-risk urban zones. In Panama, Bolivia and Colombia, OCHA supported disaster response simulations. OCHA also co-facilitated a workshop with the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) in Panama, which underlined the importance of legal standards in humanitarian operations.

Regional partners showed a firmer commitment to pandemic influenza preparedness, leading to a more robust level of planning and preparation compared with the beginning of 2009. Most of the 35 countries in the region now have an updated preparedness plan.

OCHA also initiated a disaster response guide for governments. This allows authorities in the region to better understand the roles, responsibilities, services and tools that humanitarian actors offer during disasters. The guide is expected to be released in early 2010.

In collaboration with ROLAC, the Brazilian Government held the Second Regional Meeting on Enhancing International Humanitarian Partnerships. An important outcome was the creation of an online platform, which will enable governments to share information about humanitarian needs and contributions. Governments also pledged to compile and promote a regional document detailing national customs standards, protocols and procedures on the entry of relief items. Brazil is expected to present this virtual tool before a third meeting that Argentina will host in 2010.

Redhum was included in several governmental preparedness and response plans as the main platform to support IM. Its partners included national disaster management authorities, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, NGOs and academic institutions.

During November, a workshop on gender and gender-based violence in humanitarian contexts was organized in Panama, with participants from seven countries in the region. The workshop mainly sought to reinforce partnerships among national and sub-regional women’s organizations, national civil defence/protection institutions, United Nations agencies and NGOs. Participants will have the opportunity to review national contingency plans and define next steps to ensure a gender perspective is integrated into these documents.

Due to the relatively low intensity of the hurricane season in 2009, ROLAC provided less response support to countries in the region compared with previous years. This resulted in savings against original budget requirements for surge and other direct support measures. In addition, the office experienced some delays in finalizing the recruitment of various positions, including national disaster response advisors. As a more intense hurricane season is expected in 2010, the expenditure rate is likely to return to pre-2009 levels.