Regional disaster management
The way forward
by Eva M. Calvo
years ago, the growing vulnerability of the people of Latin
America to the effects of natural disasters prompted the International
Federation to establish the Pan American Disaster Response Unit.
The forthcoming International Conference of Red Cross and Red
Crescent has set as one of its goals the reduction of risk and
impact of disasters and the improvement of preparedness and
response mechanisms. This unit is an example of putting this
goal into practice.
"We lost everything. Wherever you looked, there was
devastation and despondency. We didn't know how to deal with
that kind of a situation. I just thought we weren't going
to survive. It's been a nightmare," explained Katia Zevera,
a few months after Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras and
took all she owned.
Over the last ten years, more than 50 million people like
Katia have been affected by natural disasters in the Americas.
More than 80,000 have lost their lives. Latin America is a
vulnerable region, where flood and drought, earthquake and
hurricane, poverty and social conflict all pose multiple humanitarian
problems that demand special attention.
In 2002 alone, the region suffered dozens of disasters,
both natural and man-made. Floods in Colombia, Bolivia, Panama
and Costa Rica, and the drought in Paraguay all had a devastating
effect on the most vulnerable regions of these countries.
There were earthquakes in Mexico and Chile, while Central
America and the Caribbean were ravaged by violent hurricanes,
such as Lili and Isidore. At the same time, Argentina slid
into a socio-economic crisis, reducing the country's capacity
to meet the needs of its people and leaving thousands highly
Recognizing the region's vulnerability, the International
Federation set up the Pan American Disaster Response Unit
(PADRU) to better assist National Societies. Specifically,
PADRU is a service and coordination centre, providing technical
and material support for disaster management to the region's
National Red Cross Societies and the International Federation's
delegations. Its objective is to help the Red Cross assist
disaster victims in an effective and coordinated manner.
The pan-American disaster response unit is a
service and coordination centre for disaster response in the
The International Federation analyzed three of its major
operations in the Americas following a major disaster, Hurricanes
George and Mitch, and the floods in Venezuela. This analysis
revealed the need to review the organization's disaster response
strategy for the region. PADRU was born of the lessons learned
and experience acquired.
"The consequences of these disasters show that individual
countries, their governments, the population and even the
Red Cross were not fully prepared for disasters of this magnitude
and complexity," says Iain Logan, the Federation's head
of operations for the Americas, who has been involved in setting
up PADRU from the outset.
Panama was chosen to host PADRU's headquarters on account
of its strategic location and the transport, procurement,
land and warehousing facilities it offered. Both the Panamanian
government and the Red Cross Society of Panama fully supported
and provided the facilities for the establishment of the unit
in their country.
Nelson Castaño, the current head of PADRU, believes
the unit plays an essential support role in the region. "PADRU
is a disaster management tool both for and by the National
Societies. It provides a platform in which to formulate, integrate,
standardize and facilitate many of the processes of planning,
organization, management and execution, together with the
monitoring and evaluation of disaster preparation and response."
During the emergency phase of a disaster, it is vital to
respond quickly and appropriately, in order to save lives,
meet the most urgent needs of the population and mitigate
the effects of the disaster. PADRU supports the work of the
National Societies during an emergency by offering a wide
range of technical services, such as disaster management,
water and sanitation teams, telecommunications and logistics.
One of the specificities of PADRU is its regional logistics
unit (RLU), which is responsible for the management, procurement,
mobilization and delivery of relief supplies. The RLU has
a virtual warehouse; this greatly enhances the response of
the Red Cross in the region, making it possible to identify
potential suppliers in advance and to procure supplies in
a cost-effective manner when a disaster occurs.
In addition, PADRU draws its strength from the people who
work there. These individuals are specialists from various
technical fields and come from National Societies throughout
Committing to human dignity
The 2003 International Conference of the Red Cross and Red
Crescent is set to take place in November. The conference
theme is 'protecting human dignity'. Using the theme, the
Movement plans to renew its commitment to assisting people
suffering from the effects of crises whether they be related
to natural or man-made.
The conference will focus on five key areas of action to
put into practice the conference theme. These areas are: responsibility
and accountability, partnership, respect for international
humanitarian law, international disaster response law and
reducing vulnerability to disease and disasters.
Proving its value
Like any new model or process, PADRU has been the subject
of discussion. Initially, many wondered what PADRU would do
beyond emergencies. However, the unit has played contributed
to the strengthening of National Society capacities in the
region to respond to disasters . PADRU also provides technical
assistance and training, which has included running logistics
and water and sanitation workshops, training regional intervention
teams, all critical to response preparedness.
The focus on disaster preparedness and response has improved
coordination between the National Societies and the provision
of services both to them and to beneficiaries, and has enabled
better use to be made of both human and financial resources.
Nonetheless, there is a long way to go and many challenges
to overcome. Castaño believes that coordination between
the various parties, the sustainability of the unit and its
acceptance and full integration into the different countries'
disaster preparedness and response systems will continue to
be among the challenges faced.
Although PADRU was designed for a specific continent
the Americas much can be learned from its experience
and from the lessons learned. Iain Logan believes that it
constitutes a model that could be exported to other regions.
"The situation might vary, and so might cultural sensitivities
and methods of working, but the concept would stay the same
and ought to work."
Reducing disaster-related risk and vulnerability and building
up the capacity of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to respond
to disasters are among the main priorities of the forthcoming
International Conference. The lessons learned and the experience
acquired as a result of PADRU, offer a practical example of
what can be done to reduce vulnerabilities not only in Latin
America but elsewhere. With conference participants set to
commitment to protecting human dignity, PADRU offers one way
of lessening the suffering of people like Katia, who are most
at risk to the devastating impacts of disasters.
Eva M. Calvo
Eva M. Calvo is International Federation press officer.
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