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How to prepare a country to respond to a disaster

Diana Rubiano's picture
Also available in: Español
Ecuador is paying more and more attention to data collection and disaster risk management across sectors​.​
 Paul Salazar.
The Cruz-Castro Family searching for their belongings after the 2016 earthquake in Pedernales, Ecuador. Photo: Paul Salazar / World Bank.

Disasters occur worldwide and are part of everyone’s life. Ever since they were first recorded, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes have marked the history of humanity and its evolution. Today, our efforts focus on preparing for and responding to the impacts of these events. This way we can reduce material damages and human suffering.

Disaster risk management is a priority for many countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean region. Every year, the hurricane season systematically punishes several Caribbean countries. The rest of the region is prone to devastating earthquakes, the most recent ones occurring in Mexico and Ecuador. In Peru, Colombia and Argentina, amongst other countries, the El Niño and La Niña phenomenon can generate from torrential rains, landslides and floods to severe droughts, threatening people’s lives and their access to basic services such as water and food.

Undoubtedly and increasingly, the region is a testing ground for disasters.

In the aftermath of a disaster, in general the population and public and private institutions tend to rely on first-response entities: the fire department, the civil defense league and/or emergency assistance offices. There are several actions that can be taken though before a disaster occurs to improve coordination and immediate response. These actions can help communities be better prepared, especially when more and more frequently they have to face such situations. Preparedness and response are two important components of disaster risk management which aim to build cities and prepare the inhabitants taking into account the disaster risks.
Now, how and what can the governments do to reduce the risks, be better prepared against a disaster and respond adequately?
Different countries of the region are already implementing disaster risk prevention and reduction programs in cooperation with the World Bank. These programs involve communities, national and local governments, including the public and private sectors.

For example, in Ecuador, following the April 2016 earthquake, the Government decided to involve both the public and private sectors and promote the notion of shared responsibility. The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) supported this initiative through a grant to the Risk Management Secretariat (SGR). The grant funded: (a) the development of a national disaster response strategy, and (b) the development of a methodology the Government can use to build sectoral disaster risk management agendas including the different hazards and risks that exist in Ecuador – two were completed in 2017 for the water and transport sectors, respectively.
What is a sectoral agenda and how does it work?

The content of a sectoral agenda proposes key actions for adequate risk management in the sector. It is also a document that takes stock of available data and information on the hazards and risks affecting the sector and identifies vulnerabilities to develop mechanisms to reduce them. Furthermore, it is a document that helps improve the response capacity of the sector. It is important to start with the strategic ones such as those associated with the vital infrastructure and basic services.

In Ecuador, through GFDRR funding and with the World Bank technical assistance, the SGR led the development of such agendas for the transport and water sectors. The documents present a series of strategic, structural and operational measures along with an implementation plan. For example, the agendas introduce some technical specifications in construction design to reduce the existing and identified risks. They also shed light on the importance of disaster risk management as a sector policy and help promote and mainstream disaster risk management.
Why a National Disaster Response Plan and what does it take?

Preparing a National Disaster Response Plan requires convening the institutions involved in disaster risk management, in other words, all infrastructural and productive sectors, and identifying and planning disaster-response and rapid-recovery activities. These activities include saving lives, protecting the environment and the assets, responding to human needs, ensuring the rights of affected individuals are respected, mitigating the impacts of adverse events, reestablishing access to basic services and the operativity of the areas affected and creating a safe environment that facilitates recovery.  

Both the sectoral agendas and a Response Plan are necessary to mitigate the risks and coordinate an effective response to the negative impacts of disasters. We all must be prepared and we all are responsible: our governments, the public and private sectors, our communities, our families.

Have you considered how your family should react in the event of a disaster? Have you established meeting points and memorized the phone numbers to call in case of an emergency? As the saying goes: “Forewarned is forearmed.”
Working Group: Diana Marcela Rubiano Vargas (Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist), Van Anh Vu Hong (Senior Urban Development Specialist) and Nicholas Callender (Disaster Risk Management Analyst).

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