The Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region covers 35 countries and 23 territories. In the last decade, many parts of the region have witnessed a strengthening of democracy and growing economic progress. Countries that have achieved middle-income status have become regular providers of international assistance. However, the LAC region is also marked by economic inequality and high levels of vulnerability. An estimated 180 million people live in poverty, with rapid urbanization exacerbating the situation. Millions of people live in improvised housing in marginalized urban neighbourhoods, many located in areas highly vulnerable to natural disasters. High levels of crime-related violence are common in the region. Forty of the world’s most violent cities are in the LAC region.
Regional coordination involves dealing with an increasing number of requests for OCHA’s services, particularly for disaster preparedness and emergency response. However, ROLAC staffing levels have remained static, limiting OCHA’s ability to fully respond to the growing number of requests and expectations. Coordination tools must accommodate an increasing number of actors, as governments become more involved in humanitarian assistance. The high turnover of ministers and other officials in the humanitarian system poses obvious challenges in maintaining continuity and consistency.
OCHA has two country offices in LAC (in Colombia and Haiti). ROLAC covers and provides emergency surge support to all countries in the region. In 2011, ROLAC’s emphasis on flexibility was tested, with 100 per cent of staff members deployable for emergencies. The office responded successfully to simultaneous requests from several countries. In October, Tropical Depression 12-E passed through Central America. It caused massive flooding that affected some 2 million people in five countries. ROLAC deployed five staff members from Panama and one from Peru to the three most affected countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. ROLAC staff complemented the four national staff members present in those countries.
Coordination efforts were supported by the Regional Risk, Disaster and Emergency working group (REDLAC), which deployed 28 experts from member organizations to support agencies and cluster coordination.
OCHA supported country teams in coordinating cluster information for three CERF applications, two flash appeals for El Salvador and Nicaragua, inter-agency assessment missions and situation reports. Throughout the year, ROLAC’s Humanitarian Advisory Teams coordinated inter-agency response efforts for small-scale disasters that did not request international assistance, such as floods and landslides in Bolivia and localized flooding in Peru.
In 2011, ROLAC followed up on its objective of making governments more active partners in international assistance. It worked with Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, all increasingly involved in financing emergency response and supporting OCHA’s coordination activities, particularly UNDAC and INSARAG regional initiatives.
The Fourth Regional Meeting on International Humanitarian Assistance Mechanisms, held in Quito, Ecuador, gathered some 150 participants representing national authorities, international organizations, NGOs and private-sector bodies from 25 countries. By assembling a wide range of actors and providing a space for discussion, the forum looked to strengthen national and regional disaster preparedness and response, while building on action points from previous forums. The Fifth Regional Meeting will be held in Panama in March 2012.
OCHA’s role as secretariat of REDLAC also advanced during the year. OCHA coordinated the development of the REDLAC Guide for Governments, which raises awareness on international humanitarian tools and services, and guides governments during disasters. More than 3,000 copies were distributed throughout the region. A second edition will be printed in 2012. REDLAC continues to strengthen regional inter-agency coordination during emergencies, including support for HCTs in coordinating inter-agency preparedness activities in target countries. In 2011, the food security and HIV components in emergency working groups were formalized.
Redhum remained an important part of the regional humanitarian service, with its representatives joining coordination groups. Its website had more than 200,000 visitors and a slight increase in the number of returning visitors compared with 2010. The Redhum information network was expanded through collaboration with the White Helmets in Argentina and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Bolivia to place representatives in both countries. A three-day Information Management (IM) workshop was rolled out in Argentina and Guatemala. It was based on practical experiences compiled in several countries since 2007. In 2012, the workshop content will be adapted into an IM university module. An agreement was signed to improve information sharing and support for IM training, Redhum and the European Commission's Disaster Preparedness Programme (DIPECHO).
Due to regional dynamics and vulnerabilities, a continued focus on disaster preparedness and response capacity in Latin America and the Caribbean will be essential. OCHA will continue to strengthen the UN Emergency Technical Team (UNETT) structure, encourage the development of Humanitarian Country Teams, raise awareness on international assistance mechanisms and strengthen IM capacity, including baseline data for countries in the region. OCHA will also continue its leading role in REDLAC. Increasing emphasis will be put on strengthening partnerships with emerging economic leaders and intergovernmental organizations to increase coordination and funding for regional emergencies. OCHA will also work to formalize a regional donors’ working group. ROLAC will maintain its capacity to rapidly deploy staff to support response coordination, and it will play a more active role in UNDAC training and support networks for INSARAG deployments.