General Assembly Sixty-first session
Item 67 (b) of the preliminary list*
Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance: special economic assistance to individual countries or regions
Economic and Social Council
Substantive session of 2006
Geneva, 3-28 July 2006
Item 5 of the provisional agenda**
Special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance
The present report addresses the theme of "humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for El Salvador and Guatemala". It identifies the lessons learned from the humanitarian response effort and highlights key issues from the ongoing recovery effort in the affected countries. In doing so, it examines successes and challenges specific to the response and recovery effort linked to tropical storm Stan. The report includes a set of observations and recommendations from the Secretary-General to both the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly for further discussion, with a particular focus on improvements to international, regional, national and local response capacity and coordination and on reducing the overall vulnerability of affected populations to disasters.
1. The present report was prepared in compliance with General Assembly resolution 60/220 of 22 December 2005 on humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for El Salvador and Guatemala, in which the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to report to it, through the Economic and Social Council, at the humanitarian affairs segment of its substantive session of 2006, on the implementation of the resolution and on the progress made in the relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts of the affected countries.
II. Defining the crisis
2. Recurring natural disasters in Guatemala and El Salvador constitute a major cause for reversals in the development gains made by both countries in recent decades, since they increase their levels of vulnerability and lower the resilience of the affected populations. The negative impact of the 2005 hurricane season was particularly pervasive, striking regions that had been repeatedly affected by natural disasters over the previous few years.
3. During the first week of October 2005, continuous rains unleashed by tropical storm Stan hit the southern and western coasts of Guatemala, causing landslides and flooding that seriously affected the people in the upper and middle basins, as well as communities along riverbanks.
4. Tropical storm Stan resulted in the loss of 670 lives, 844 missing and 386 injured, affecting an estimated 474,928 people. Its impact was felt by 1,156 communities in 133 municipalities of the 15 regions affected. Some 25,828 housing units were damaged and more than 9,000 destroyed.
5. On 5 October 2005, the Government of Guatemala declared a state of public calamity and called for international assistance. As a result, a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team was deployed and an on-site operations centre was set up to support the efforts of the National Coordinating Office for Disaster Reduction, the non-governmental organizations community and the United Nations system. At the request of the Government, the team also installed the Logistics Support System/Humanitarian Supply Management System to improve the management of humanitarian supplies by monitoring the financial flow of emergency donations and investments.
6. The Government, the United Nations system, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, other bilateral, regional and multilateral agencies and international and local non-governmental organizations, coordinated their efforts to reach the affected population. Between 14 and 26 October 2005 an average of 500 shelters were constructed, housing approximately 140,000 people. The effort required the active participation of municipal and provincial authorities, civil society organizations, the United Nations system and Guatemalan Red Cross volunteers. Health-care actions were supported by the deployment of 60 national health teams, comprising 600 health professionals from several neighbouring and other countries.
7. In order to provide an immediate response to the needs stemming from the disaster, the United Nations system, in coordination with the Guatemalan authorities, launched a flash appeal for $24 million on 10 October 2005. The appeal was intended to address four main needs: health; water and sanitation; food security; and shelter/social infrastructure.
8. Early in the process, a recovery support team was deployed with a view to assisting the Government and the United Nations system in formulating an early recovery framework that would focus on the most vulnerable segments of the population and on restoring their livelihoods.
9. Tropical storm Stan mainly affected the indigenous population and vulnerable groups living in the highlands of Guatemala. Most of the indigenous population live in extreme poverty, and the impact of the storm only served to worsen their living conditions. The remote indigenous communities were also cut off from the rest of the country for weeks after mud slides destroyed roads and overflowing rivers washed away dozens of bridges. The disaster affected men and women differently. Owing to high male migration patterns in the affected areas, most households are headed by women, rendering them highly vulnerable during a crisis period.
10. Six months after the disaster the response continues to focus on humanitarian needs and early recovery priorities. It is expected that over the next few months there will still be pockets of population in need of food aid, given the widespread loss of food reserves suffered by current and previous harvests. Food aid efforts will therefore be complemented by rehabilitation activities that will require technical and financial support for the subsequent implementation of an effective reconstruction plan.
11. The economic impact of the disaster has been estimated at $983 million, 59 per cent of which in the private sector. Total losses represent 3.4 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) at 2004 rates. Loss of soil due to landslides and new crevices created on steep slopes have not only aggravated pre-existing environmental fragility but also increased risk. Any new events could result in further damage and losses, reduce welfare, and postpone the achievement of faster growth and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
B. El Salvador
12. In the first weeks of October 2005, El Salvador was hit by two simultaneous disasters: the eruption of the Ilamatepec volcano and tropical storm Stan. The Government and Congress of El Salvador declared a state of public calamity and disaster and issued a call for international assistance. The Ilamatepec volcano, located in the coffee-growing area of Santa Ana, first erupted on 1 October 2005, then again on 3 October. On 2 October, a tropical depression developed into tropical storm Stan, one of the 27 named storms of the 2005 hurricane season. The intense rains affected almost half of El Salvador's territory, causing floods and landslides that adversely affected the population and infrastructure, including communications.
13. Sixty-nine people were killed and more than 70,000 had to be evacuated to temporary shelters. In addition, much farmland and many homes were destroyed, while family belongings and small livestock were lost in large numbers.
14. According to an assessment conducted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), from 26 October to 8 November 2005, the economic impact of the two disasters amounted to $355.6 million, equivalent to 2.2 per cent of the total GDP for 2004. The impact was concentrated in the social, infrastructure and production sectors. The housing sector was the most severely affected ($113 million), with private producers suffering the biggest income losses. As in the case of Guatemala, environmental damage led to a loss of assets that will adversely postpone growth and negatively affect the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
15. At the request of the Government, the United Nations system in El Salvador responded with immediate relief assistance by providing food, shelter, water and emergency health-care services to more than 650 shelters nationwide, and established links with the national authorities responsible for emergency management activities. A United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team deployed and worked in collaboration with national and local institutions during the initial needs and damage assessment. In response to the emergency, the United Nations launched a joint flash appeal for $7.9 million on 7 October 2005, calling upon the international community to immediately respond to the needs of the affected population.
16. Six months after the disaster, the majority of the people evacuated have returned to their homes and are resuming normal activities in their communities, rehabilitating their homes and preparing the land for the new farming cycle. Unfortunately, more than 100 people remain in temporary shelters, as they cannot return to their homes, which are located in areas prone to volcanic activity. Furthermore, since intense rains are forecast for the next rainy season, the population living in vulnerable zones could once again be exposed to risk.
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