Fifth DIPECHO Action Plan for Central America

Location of operation: DIPECHO
Amount of Decision: EUR 6,000,000
Decision reference number: ECHO/DIP/BUD/2006/02000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population.

1.1. - Rationale:

According to Article 2(f) of Humanitarian Aid Regulation (EC) of 20 June 1996(1), DG ECHO's(2) activities in the field of Disaster Preparedness shall be "to ensure preparedness for risks of natural disasters or comparable exceptional circumstances and use a suitable rapid early-warning and intervention system".

DIPECHO (Disaster Preparedness ECHO) is a programme set up by DG ECHO to improve the capacities of communities at risk to better prepare for and protect themselves against natural disasters. Initially the DIPECHO programme focused on three regions: Central America, South East Asia (including Bangladesh) and the Caribbean. In 1998, the DIPECHO programme was expanded to include two further regions that are highly exposed to natural disasters, that is, South Asia and the Andean Community. In 2003, following the recommendations of a specific evaluation, Central Asia became the sixth DIPECHO region. A diagnostic study was carried out in each of these regions to identify the risks, evaluate the socio-economic vulnerability of the people and the risk to property and to determine what local, national and regional response capability and external support was already in place.

Central America is particularly exposed to natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, tropical storms, tsunamis, landslides, droughts, and forest fires. Additional threats such as global warming, environmental degradation, improper land planning, inadequate agricultural practices, and uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources and rapid urbanisation continue to make thousands of people more vulnerable to natural hazards.

Hydro-meteorological events have been predominant over the last 15 years and have been on the rise since 1996 in Central America, where 58 floods have affected 1.5 million people since 1990. Over the same period, more than 4.7 million Central Americans have been hit by windstorms, most notoriously by Hurricanes Mitch(3) and Stan(4) in 1998 and 2005, respectively. In fact, 2005 was a record cyclonic season in the Atlantic in terms of tropical storms and hurricanes(5). Hydro-meteorological events are the cause of more than 93% of human lives lost over the period 1990-2006(6). The number of droughts, a slow-onset disaster, has risen recently, affecting over 2 million people in Central America alone in the past fifteen years(7). The same observation can be made concerning economic losses: over a longer period from 1970 to 2000, 70% of economic losses resulting from natural disasters are connected with hydro-meteorological phenomena(8).

However, leaving aside the impact of the hurricanes Mitch and Stan, geological events and more specifically earthquakes generate the most significant economic losses. For example, the two earthquakes which hit El Salvador in 2001 affected a total of 1.5 million people(9).

In addition, certain events such as landslides can be associated with geological events (Santa Tecla, earthquake in El Salvador in 2001, causing more than 600 victims), but also with hydro-meteorological events (landslide of the Casita volcano, hurricane Mitch in 1998, with more than 2,000 victims).

Finally, deforestation is a frequent problem in poor countries, and events such as the El Niño phenomenon aggravate its consequences. The drought induced by the El Niño phenomenon in 1997-1998 caused losses of forests (due to fires) corresponding to four years of deforestation(10).

The recurring nature of disasters is a very important element to be taken into account in the analysis of threats and therefore of risks. But independently of the magnitude and of the frequency of the events, the deterioration of the socio-economic situation of a large part of the Central American population leads one to predict an increase in the population exposed to the risks of disasters, in rural areas and on the edges of large cities.

The vulnerability indicators(11) of Central American countries, such as the human development index, are the lowest for all Latin America. In particular, Guatemala is positioned 117th, Honduras 116th, Nicaragua 112th, and El Salvador 104th, according to UNDP's 2005 report. Additionally, in Latin America, the within-country vulnerability disparity levels are extremely high: even in relatively favoured countries such as Costa Rica, Panama or El Salvador, vulnerability can be very high in certain regions, without necessarily inciting the respective governments to take corrective action.

The losses and the destruction that result from these disasters are therefore significant from a social and economic point of view and reduce the development potential of the region. Recent studies have shown that despite the many efforts made in the region, disasters have increased gradually over the last thirty years and affect 5% of annual GDP(12). If one takes into account only those disasters considered as such by databases such as CRED, disasters produced losses which, at constant prices, are 600% higher than losses during the 1970s.(13)

Central America also experiences frequent small-scale disasters(14) affecting relatively few communities, where donors are unlikely to intervene due to the limited scale of the event, but which have a considerable negative impact on the livelihoods of those affected. According to CRED, 85% of the population affected by disasters in Central America during 1990-2005 was affected by small-scale events.

In 2003 DG ECHO launched a global evaluation on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)(15). Owing to their exposure to risks, to their economic and socio-cultural vulnerability and to the weakness of the existing local response capacities, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua were classified as having a high level of risk. Certain regions of Costa Rica and of Panama can also be included in this category.

Despite the recent legislative reforms in several Central American countries, Disaster Preparedness (DP) is not a strategic priority for many of the national authorities. Consequently their ability to cope with disasters is extremely weak, particularly at local level where many communities and local institutions lack awareness, knowledge, expertise, resources and mandate. In such a scenario, the lack of resilience of populations, institutions, basic services (commonly ruptured during natural disasters) and other infrastructure result in vulnerabilities and losses (both in lives and assets lost) that in many instances could be mitigated or avoided. The resulting erosion of the coping capacities of people and institutions and the additional resources that are subsequently required contribute to undoing much of the relief and development gains of recent years.

It is now generally recognised that the integration of disaster risk reduction (DRR) in development and cooperation policies should become systematic, as risk and vulnerability are crucial elements in reducing the negative impacts of hazards, thus contributing to the achievement of sustainable development, poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals. The more a vulnerable population is exposed to natural disasters which exhaust its coping mechanisms, the more difficult it becomes for it to emerge from the spiral of vulnerability.

The Priorities for Action of the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: "Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters"(16) provided the strategic logic underlying the Fifth DIPECHO Action Plan for Central America.

In April 2005 the European Commission, in its Communication "Reinforcing EU Disaster and Crisis Response in third countries",(17) addressed the issue of enhancing preparedness and response to disasters. The document also considers the Hyogo Framework for Action as the starting point of its strategy(18).


(1) EC Regulation N°1257/96 of 20 June 1996, OL L163 of 2 July 1996.

(2) Directorate-General for Humanitarian aid - DG ECHO.

(3) Hurricane Mitch is a benchmark in Central America's recent disaster history. Its impact was so severe in this region that, for example, 7 years later the PRRAC - The Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Plan for Central America- funded by the EC (EUR 250,000,000 approx.) is still being implemented.

(4) In Guatemala alone, hurricane Stan caused damage of over EUR 800,000,000 (equivalent to more than 3% GDP) and affected to 0.5 million people (4% of its population).

(5) Registration started by the mid-1850's

(6) Source: CRED (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster)

(7) DG ECHO responded to the drought of 2001-2002 through 4 decisions which amounted to EUR 6,820,000.

(8) According to CIESA (Centre for Economic and Environmental Studies)

(9) DG ECHO responded to these earthquakes through 3 decisions which amounted to EUR 10,500,000.

(10) According to CCAD (Comisión Centroamericana para el Ambiente y el Desarrollo), the losses of forests in Central America during 1997-1998 amount to 1.5 million hectares.

(11) The vulnerability indicators comprise the physical, social, cultural, economic and environmental factors, which increase the probability of a community suffering a negative impact due to a threat.

(12) CIESA, conclusions of the Mitch + 5 Forum (November 2003).

(13) UNDP data

(14) For the purpose of this analysis, a disaster is considered of small-scale when it affects less than 50,000 people, according to CRED Database.

(15) December 2003, Evaluation of DG ECHO's strategic orientation to disaster reduction available on DG ECHO's Web site:

(16) The 5 priorities for action are: 1. Ensure that DRR is a national and a local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation; 2. Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning; 3. Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels; 4. Reduce the underlying risk factors; 5. Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.

(17) COM (2005) 153, 20 April 2005.

(18) Such as integrating disaster risk reduction into sustainable development policies and into programmes in countries that have been affected by disaster; strengthening of institutions, mechanisms and capacities at all levels that can build resilience to hazards and disaster preparedness both inside and outside the EU; development of people-centred early warning, better management and exchange of information on risks and protection, education and training; identifying, assessing and monitoring disaster risks, enhancing early warning; reducing the underlying risk factors."