Challenges in Central American humanitarian assistance after a disaster

Rescue teams participate in a drill in Nicaragua. World Bank

You can go from Guatemala to Panama in just two hours, linking the Central American region end to end on a commercial flight. These short distances between countries represent opportunities and benefits. However, for something as critical as humanitarian assistance, the region still faces logistical and bureaucratic challenges that prevent it from fully capitalizing on these advantages. 

So how is Central America working to expedite intra-regional assistance to benefit disaster-affected populations?  

The coordinated response among the region’s countries and the agile and timely arrival of humanitarian assistance in the context of disasters and emergencies can make the difference between life and death for many communities . This is especially relevant in Central America, the second most exposed and vulnerable region in the world to disasters, which often affect several countries simultaneously, as was the case after Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020. 

With regional coordination, Central America has achieved a vision of Integrated Disaster Risk Management (IDRM), a key element of sustainable human development, and the development of collaboration mechanisms to support each other in solidarity in disaster response. An example of this is the work of the Coordination Center for Disaster Prevention in Central America and the Dominican Republic (CEPREDENAC), which coordinates the implementation of the Regional Mechanism for Mutual Aid in Disasters (MecReg), and which in 2019 conducted a regional earthquake drill that tested the operation of this mechanism. It is thanks to this and other efforts that it has been possible to think of regional distances as an element that can save lives. These exercises and the actions that have been constantly and historically carried out demonstrate that the region has diverse potentialities but there are still pending improvements, such as the strengthening of regional humanitarian assistance.  

The World Bank, through the Japan-World Bank Program and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), together with NASA are contributing to these processes led by the Central American Integration System (SICA), and in particular CEPREDENAC, by updating the administrative instruments, capacities and procedures for disaster preparedness and response, including the review, approval, and proposal of the platforms and mechanisms mentioned above.  

As part of this work, the team is developing a Road Map and an Investment Plan to address the needs for improvement in national preparedness and response (P&R) systems and regional support mechanisms . Both at the regional and multisectoral levels, this collaboration implies that national emergency response systems activate their territorial networks, generate alerts, deploy teams and mobilize reactive capacities, without losing sight of each context . Joint work has also used disruptive technologies and earth observation tools to improve risk scenarios, management plans, coordination of humanitarian assistance, and post-disaster recovery processes. 

The recent LV meeting of Heads of State and Government of SICA has echoed these efforts with the adoption of an agreement which instructs that SICA and CEPREDENAC, with regional actors and the Council of Ministries of Foreign Affairs, will establish “procedures and protocols to ensure that humanitarian assistance is agile, expeditious and timely in case of early warnings and emergencies." Achieving the expected levels of preparedness, response, and regional humanitarian assistance involves:

  • The strengthening, updating, and modernization of the legal and institutional framework that regulates the conditions for international humanitarian assistance, and preparedness and response in general.
  • The strengthening, modernization, and development of the information necessary to respond to reactive management, its generation, processing, storage, analysis and distribution.
  • The development, reinforcement, and investment in emergency infrastructure, considering inclusiveness criteria and the transboundary dimension.
  • The mobilization of internal and external resources to ensure adequate and necessary equipment for response and humanitarian assistance, considering the needs posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Investment in capacity building of response and humanitarian assistance personnel.

This commitment is key to achieve a more resilient and inclusive Central America to continue strengthening processes reflecting the lessons learned and the complex risk challenges posed by the multi-hazard characteristics . They include not only disasters, but also the COVID-19 pandemic, and each population´s vulnerabilities that vary due to social, economic and geographical differences..


Rolando Durán Vargas

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist

Haris Sanahuja

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist

Mirtha Escobar

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist

Diana Segura-Román

Disaster Risk Management Consultant

Cecilia Martínez Gómez

External Relations Associate

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