20/12/2011 – It started out as a fairly simple exercise: Before defining what areas were going to be a priority in its Disaster Preparedness Program, the European Commission’s department of Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) wanted to consult the concerned stakeholders in the Central American countries where it has operations.
“It is very important for ECHO to show the stakeholders that we take their opinions into account when it comes to defining our programs in the region”, says the head of ECHO’s Central America office, Virginie André.
So municipalities, the local departments in charge of Emergency Response, Civil Protection bodies, the Red Cross and NGOs that work on disaster preparedness were gathered together to discuss the current situation and analyse where the strengths and weaknesses lie. This inclusive exercise was later replicated at the national level and then at a regional level, organisations from 6 countries of Central America participated: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Their latest meeting took place this week.
The findings not only help ECHO design its own strategy for the coming years, it also gives the countries a fantastic tool with which to have an accurate diagnosis of where it is most important to act.
“We, communities and authorities, have been given the opportunity to participate in these consultations, and we do feel as actors essential to the process”, says the director of El Salvador’s Civil Protection director, Jorge Meléndez. “This type of relationship with the European Commission is a very serious one, very dignified and appropriate, in my view. We do not feel we are been given charity but rather that we are partners”.
What started out as an internal process of Disaster Preparedness programming has since taken on a life of its own. Although still organized, funded and facilitated by ECHO, the consultation process in Central America is now mainly led by the national disaster prevention and response systems of the countries concerned. They are the main actors in the process.
The consultation process has helped integration efforts in Central America, by bringing together actors from all 6 different countries and helping them define a common agenda. This is paying off; Disaster Risk Reduction is now much higher up on agendas than before, for example this month, at the Central America Integration System (SICA) summit heads of State and Government are focusing specifically on Risk Management and Climate Change Adaptation.
This political interest is of key importance in a region like Central America, the world’s second most vulnerable region to climatological risks after South East Asia. Honduras and Nicaragua ranked 3rd and 4th (after Bangladesh and Myanmar) in the list of countries most affected by extreme weather from 1990 to 2009. El Salvador led the ranking in 2009. Recently, the region has been hit by Tropical Depression E-12, which has left more rain than famous Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and extensive damage, although unfortunately it has received much less media coverage. ECHO responded to this disaster with €4 million of humanitarian aid for the most affected and vulnerable populations. The bottom line is that disaster preparedness saves lives; whether it comes in the form of infrastructure works prevent rivers from overflowing or early warning systems that enable communities to make timely evacuation to avoid being buried by mudslides. These reasons are why disaster preparedness will remain a big priority for humanitarian donors like ECHO. To date ECHO has invested €42.5 million in disaster preparedness projects in Central America.
By ensuring all stakeholders participate in the debate around what should be done regarding Disaster Preparedness, ECHO encourages the local ownership of the process, which is the best guarantee that disaster preparedness initiatives will continue to benefit vulnerable populations, and even grow, after humanitarian donors leave.
For Spanish speakers, a video explaining the Consultation Process of ECHO funded Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) projects in Central America experience.
For English speakers, the head of ECHO’s Latin America and Asia Unit, Esko Kentschynskyj, talks about our response to the damage caused by Tropical Depression E-12 in Central America earlier this year.