Bracing for nature's worst
The Central America and Caribbean region is one of the most disaster-prone in the world. In addition to natural hazards typical of coastal geographies, such as tropical storms and hurricanes, it faces earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and droughts. Wide geographic disparities in wealth and infrastructure leave the region’s rural areas more prone than urban centres to the destructive aftermath.
El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras belong to the poorest countries in the region. Whilst all three have well-defined national plans for disaster management, civil protection and disaster risk reduction (DRR) in place, for political and economic reasons these generally do not include outreach to vulnerable rural communities. Moreover, even under ideal circumstances, local authorities will always be the first to act in the wake of disaster, with support from central governments and aid organisations arriving only later.
With a presence in Central America and the Caribbean for two decades, the Swiss Red Cross has offered emergency relief, reconstruction and development assistance in the wake of some of the region’s worst disasters. Hurricane Mitch, which struck Honduras in 1998, and the earthquakes that ravaged El Salvador in 2001 and Haiti in 2010, respectively, spurred it to establish operations in all three countries. Through awareness-building, organisation and mobilisation processes, these country programmes have successfully linked populations that have very limited access to public services for disaster management and healthcare to national systems.
The wide experience of the Swiss Red Cross in empowering communities to build their own resilience puts it in an ideal position to help rural communities in El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras close gaps in their disaster preparedness.
With the Swiss Red Cross taking the operational lead, this project will train local communities in El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras in disaster preparedness and link them to national disaster management and health systems, test and promote innovative approaches to risk reduction and strengthen policy dialogue. In particular, it will:
- Expand DRR coverage by strengthening local interventions and scaling up from the community level to the municipal/departmental and national levels (for instance, using local risk studies as a basis for region-wide natural resource and territorial management plans)
- Analyse, evaluate and systematise implementation of proven best practices in DRR to facilitate intraregional exchange and replication, such as by extending peer-learning mechanisms beyond El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras
- Reduce gaps in existing DRR methodology and innovation (especially in the areas of cost-benefit analysis, residual risk transfer mechanisms and climate and health risk monitoring) by integrating know-how from Swiss Re and other regional and international partners
GOALS AND EXPECTED IMPACT
This project will build on existing national programmes in Central America and the Caribbean to bolster local disaster risk resilience. The overall goal is to increase resilience by mitigating not only disaster risks, but also other risks that may negatively affect communities, such as health hazards arising from unsafe water or poor sanitation.
Drawing on the complementary expertise of the Swiss Red Cross, the Swiss Re Foundation and Swiss Re, the project specifically aims to:
- Establish sustainable DRR capacities and practices at the community level in El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras
- Enhance the effectiveness of DRR solutions in Central America and the Caribbean generally
- Strengthen policy dialogue and advocacy for DRR at the local, national and international levels
- Raise the visibility of and step up advocacy for DRR throughout the region
The direct beneficiaries will be the 78 000 residents of the communities involved in project activities: 15 000 in El Salvador, 18 000 in Haiti and 45 000 in Honduras. Another 350 000 people are expected to benefit indirectly from positive structural and behavioural changes that the project brings about, such as improved territorial management.