Bracing for nature's worst
In a nutshell
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. While 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 set out to 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:
- 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 builded on existing national programmes in Central America and the Caribbean to bolster local disaster risk resilience. The overall goal was to enable communities to increase their resilience by mitigating not only the effects of natural hazards, but also risks such as the health hazards arising from unsafe water or poor sanitation.
Spread across 11 municipalities, the more than 500 communities that participated have more than 100 000 residents altogether. Another 350 000 people stood to benefit indirectly from the changes the project aimed to bring about, such as better land stewardship, protection of watersheds and production of surplus food.
Our grant afforded the SRC and its local partners the flexibility to test new DRR ideas and innovations and to implement tried-and-true approaches on a wide scale. It also addressed seven of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
In our Foundation Report 2020 key actors of this partnership share their perspective on how we were helping their communities protect themselves from natural hazards and climate risk.