UN Volunteers awarded for disaster reduction initiative in Guatemala

GENEVA, 10 October 2002 - The United Nations Volunteers programme (UNV) has been awarded a United Nations Sasakawa Certificate of Merit for its achievements in mobilizing university graduates to support disaster reduction initiatives in Guatemala.
At a ceremony late Wednesday in Geneva, the Inter-Agency Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) presented the certificate to national UN Volunteer Francisco Alejandro Salazar Merck and UNV Programme Manager Gabriela Walker of Bolivia. The ceremony coincided with the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction.

The jury recognized UNV Guatemala for the "very interesting tripartite project" between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the University of San Carlos and the local population. "Its implementation must be encouraged as a learning instrument involving local communities in the protection of the environment as a pre-condition for the mitigation of future disasters," the jury wrote, adding that it would like to "recognize the efforts made and encourage this promising initiative".

"I am here in the name of the UN Volunteers working since November 2000 on disaster management in Guatemala, a country stricken by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and droughts," said Francisco Alejandro Salazar Merck after receiving the certificate. "For people who are on the edge of survival, the loss that a disaster can also be the end of their hopes. We are aware of the problems that face our country, and we pass along the tools needed for local empowerment."

Thirty-eight university graduates have worked with poor and isolated communities in Guatemala in disaster prevention and reduction under the initiative funded through UNV's Special Voluntary Fund (SVF). In efforts to prepare for natural disasters like Hurricane Mitch in high-risk areas, the volunteers work with partners to reverse the trends of environmental degradation and the resulting increase in poverty.

"UNV would like to specially recognize the late Lars Franklin, former UNDP Resident Coordinator in Guatemala, who was the source of inspiration and who worked hard for this project to become reality," said Douglas Evangelista, chief of UNV's Arab States, Latin America and the Caribbean Section. Mr. Franklin's successor, Pablo Corlazolli, nominated the project for the Sasakawa Award.

This was the only initiative in the Americas and the only UN organization to be recognized this year. This year's UN Sasakawa Award for Disaster Reduction laureate was Professor Sergueï Balassanian, President of the Armenian Association of Seismology and Physics of the Earth's Interior (AASPEI).

The 2002 Certificates of Distinction went to Mr. Muhammad Saidur Rahman, Bangladesh, Director of the Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Centre, Ms. Fernanda Teixeira, Secretary General of the Mozambique Red Cross, and the Emergency Monitoring and Forecasting Agency, Russian Federation. The other Certificates of Merit 2002 were given to Cruz Vermelha de Timor-Leste (CVTL), and Lt. Colonel Abbu Darwish, Jordan, Director of the Disasters Department of the Jordan Civil Defence.

The Award is sponsored by the Nippon Foundation, Japan, and is given every year to reward outstanding achievements by disaster reduction practitioners in their field. For more information about the Sasakawa Award, visit:

Based in Bonn, Germany, UNV is the volunteer arm of the UN system supporting peace and development initiatives in nearly 150 countries. Created by the UN General Assembly in 1970 and administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNV works through UNDP country offices to mobilize volunteers--two-thirds of them from developing countries--and promote the ideals of volunteerism around the world.

For more information about this news release, contact:

Roger Brandin, tel: (502) 334 593; mobile: (502) 705 9963 email:
Cesar Guedes, tel: (49 228) 815 2108; email: