Based in Panama, ROLAC covers 42 countries and territories, and supports OCHA offices in Colombia and Haiti. The office aims to strengthen disaster preparedness and response in the region, working closely with its humanitarian partners and disaster management counterparts. The increased frequency of requests and surge requirements has taxed the capacity of OCHA and other humanitarian organizations to provide adequate response support.
A network of National Disaster-Response Advisers (NDRAs) and Information Management (IM) assistants working in 12 countries supports ROLAC outside of Panama (Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Dominican Republic). The NDRAs support UN and international partners in their work with national authorities. With their help, and under the guidance of the Regional Disaster Response Advisors (RDRA), ROLAC provides in-country training and advice on disaster response and preparedness to national authorities. The IM assistants are part of a disaster information network called Redhum, which also covers 11 countries in LAC
ROLAC has established partnerships with several inter-governmental institutions in the region. OCHA supports the activities of the Working Group on Risk Emergency and Disasters for Latin America and the Caribbean (REDLAC), which comprises UN agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross Movement and donors. REDLAC helps to coordinate inter-agency preparedness and response at regional and country levels.
ROLAC also interacts with a range of institutions that are involved in preparedness and response, including the Coordination Center for the Prevention of Natural Disasters in Central America CEPREDENAC (part of the Central America Integration System, SICA), Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, CDEMA (part of CARICOM), Andean Committee for Disaster Prevention and Response CAPRADE (part of the Andean Community of Nations, CAN) and the Specialized Meeting in Disaster risk Reduction and Humanitarian Assistance REHU (part of MERCOSUR) Other institutions are also vying to play a more significant role in humanitarian and disaster management in the region.
In the past six years, ROLAC teams have been mobilized to more than 30 emergencies to support humanitarian coordination. National governments with limited resources are placing increasing demands on OCHA. Since 2007, there have been approximately 12 requests per year for international assistance.
ROLAC trains its staff to ensure they are deployable for emergencies. Key functions of the office include:
Support for disaster response coordination with the deployment of well-trained and experienced ROLAC staff during the initial phase of emergencies.
Communicating and raising the international community’s awareness of the humanitarian needs arising from small-scale disasters that can often be devastating for the affected community.
Responding to major emergencies, such as the Haiti earthquake, where seven staff members were deployed to support coordination in Port-au-Prince and the Dominican Republic during the first 24 hours.
Disaster Preparedness and Risk ReductionAt the country level, the office systematically engages in preparedness activities with national authorities, Resident Coordinators, United Nations Country Teams (UNCTs), NGOs and the Red Cross. The frequent turnover of government staff means that new working relationships and coordination arrangements need to be re-established to maintain a good level of disaster preparedness. The NDRAs have been key to establishing twenty UN Emergency Technical Teams (UNETTs) and 8 Humanitarian Country Teams in support of preparedness and response measures in the region’s most disaster-prone countries.
ROLAC also facilitates workshops and training for UN, NGO and government staff to improve their understanding of disaster response and preparedness tools. The office has led or supported six UNDAC preparedness missions in the last five years.
Regional Information Management Networks
In 2007, ROLAC established Redhum to strengthen the exchange of humanitarian and disaster information within the region. Distributed through Redhum’s public website, the information supports analysis and decision-making. With two staff based in Panama and 11 in the region, Redhum serves as an information resource for national institutions, HCTs and IM working groups.
Support to Regional Networks
Partnerships have become an important focus for the office, partly due to the rising number of intergovernmental entities wishing to play a role in disaster management. ROLAC has also facilitated regional meetings to enhance regional collaboration in partnership with the governments of Mexico (2008), Brazil (2009), Argentina (2010) and Ecuador (2011).
ROLAC relies on its network of 18 (NDRA and Redhum) staff based in the region to maintain good working relations with government and partner-agency counterparts.
In 2012-13, ROLAC aims to maintain its emergency response and deploy teams in support of disaster response coordination. It will play a greater role in UNDAC training and aim to better support INSARAG networks in the region.
ROLAC will also focus on strengthening preparedness at the country-level—as outlined in the OCHA Minimum Preparedness Package—to ensure that key humanitarian teams are better equipped to lead emergency responses. No major changes are foreseen during the next two years regarding the nature of support to national authorities.
The high turnover of national authorities and humanitarian partners, coupled with an increase in disaster events and vulnerabilities, means disaster preparedness will remain a priority for OCHA in the foreseeable future. ROLAC will continue to strengthen UNETTs, develop HCTs, and increase awareness on international mechanisms and structures. It will also continue to facilitate regional inter-agency coordination (REDLAC) and participate in the regional UN Development Group. ROLAC will consider reinforcing its liaison capacity over the next two years.
Greater engagement with the region’s emerging donors and potential leaders in disaster relief is also planned. In particular, fostering greater ties with Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, will be important for the region.
Good information management and analysis will remain a priority. Through the Redhum network, ROLAC will make improvements to Spanish language information gathering and exchange, and strengthen its internal analysis capabilities through its partnership with the Latin American Universities Network.
Redhum will continue to support national institutions and HCTs by applying best practices on IM. It will also set up and support working groups to discuss a range of technical issues, including the standardization of monitoring tools and crisis reporting. Redhum staff members are an important part of the office’s emergency surge capacity and will continue to provide specialized support, such as mobilizing MapAction teams for crisis response.