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General conclusions:

1. Hurricane Mitch demonstrated that the region is not prepared for natural emergencies of any kind.

2. National programmes for natural-disaster prevention and relief lack the technical support needed to conduct follow-up, evaluation and early-warning operations in vulnerable regions.

3. No systems have been set up to provide early warning about food insecurity among groups at risk of floods, droughts or earthquakes, due to the lack of resources needed to implement such systems.

4. Identification of at-risk groups and programmes that might be developed on their behalf is an aspect of prevention that - with the exception of a few regions in the countries concerned - is generally implemented by NGOs.

5. There is no overall conceptual framework for Food Security, aimed at monitoring risk factors and providing services to food producers and food-insecure populations in all affected countries. In most countries, the emphasis is placed on providing services to other population segments and producers involved in the production of export crops.

6. There is no statistical database for the continuous monitoring of dietary intake and market balances of basic foods. The system for forecasting harvests must be improved, and it would be advisable to integrate the system into the regional framework for integration. Similarly, there is no mechanism for determining balances indicating availability for a specific year compared with the previous year, with a view to monitoring the nutritional intake of the population.

7. An assessment of the damage inflicted by Hurricane Mitch was performed during the period immediately after the tragedy, when conditions were such that it was not possible to perform the necessary technical tasks effectively. As a result, some of the damage sustained in the agricultural sector was not properly accounted for, and should have been subject to a second assessment. No such second assessment was performed in any of the countries concerned.

8. The potential for organizations of civil society and NGOs is not being properly exploited, in terms of the financial resources needed to implement aid programmes designed to reduce poverty and food insecurity. Furthermore, there are no mechanisms linking governments with such organizations, with a view to coordinating their respective programmes.

9. There is no clear definition of international financial organizations and donor communities concerning the commitments made during meetings of the consultative group to help the region in its reconstruction efforts. Everything seems to indicate that additional resources will not be allocated, and that those commitments can be met only with aid provided to the countries under normal conditions. Similarly, there is a tendency to relegate recent disasters in second place, and give new priority to those that have just taken place in other countries or regions, leaving the first with no means to recovery.

10. In all countries concerned, production of crops for domestic consumption has been neglected. This is reflected in serious limitations in programmes for credit, technical assistance, technology transfer, access to inputs, and organizational conditions for the effective marketing of agricultural products, and especially foods. The impact of Hurricane Mitch has further exacerbated this situation.

11. Due to the poverty levels among the population in the region, the acquisition of foods by that population is a critical daily struggle for survival. This might trigger serious social unrest, if priority measures are not taken, especially in rural areas. Such measures should focus in particular on ethnic groups in all countries, since the level of neglect is higher among this population group, which is the most vulnerable in the region and which did not receive adequate assistance following Hurricane Mitch, with the result that their condition has worsened.

12. Although the region is a natural importer of foods, it has the potential for the rational exploitation of agricultural land in all the countries concerned, with a view to achieving self-sufficiency and, possibly, exporting products to neighbouring markets. Neither governments nor NGOs have made any effort to coordinate the efforts of the various countries in this regard.

13. Coordination of plans and programmes of international cooperation agencies with the agricultural and nutritional sector is not sufficiently robust to identify ways to assist the population at risk of food insecurity.

14. The same can be said of international entities working together on natural disasters.

15. Efforts to preserve the environment and protect the forests, within the context of food security, have not been approached with sufficient foresight. Implementation of laws and regulations should be mandatory for authorities in each country.

16. Coordination of development and cooperation models of the United Nations System, such as those planned in Guatemala, should be organized on a regional basis, in the short term, in view of the marginal status of broad sectors of the population, which need aid programmes that are more effectively structured and non-competitive.

17. Food aid for rehabilitation of production has been directed mainly at restoring the export capacity of large producers, while production of foods by small producers has been marginalized. There is no large-scale programme for small producers in any of the countries concerned. Indeed, efforts have even been made to encourage the importing of such foods.

18. The structure of poverty after Mitch has been maintained, and even increased, in the case of those who are extremely poor, because there are no programmes with the funding sources needed to address these sectors.

19. Food insecurity due to natural disasters is increasing in these countries, and the people do not have the necessary programmes with which to deal with the situation.

General Recommendations:

1. A framework must be set up for the coordination of actions designed to consolidate a duly articulated regional system that interacts in the case of natural disasters, particularly with regard to food security. The first step in this process should be consolidation of SICA and its agencies, such as CEPREDENAC. This should be achieved through institutional strengthening, designed to ensure that these agencies have expertise in the area of food security. FAO should therefore improve the focus of its joint collaboration with agencies that sponsor the Regional Unit for Technical Assistance (RUTA), under a regional project that emphasises vulnerability and food insecurity.

2. Mechanisms for the institutional strengthening of the regional agency must begin with the creation and building of capacities in each country, so that systems for the follow-up and evaluation of productive activities, as well as the system for early warning of food insecurity, are transformed into tools for consistent efforts at national institutions. This will make it possible to prevent, mitigate and deal with the effects of disasters and provide assistance for at-risk populations. For the purposes of this task, national budgetary allocations for the hiring of human and material capacities must be the responsibility of Governments, and international cooperation agencies must be responsible for the technical and financial assistance required for this purpose. The strengthening of the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System (SICIAV) is thus essential to any plan that may be implemented.

3. Standardization of Central American countries' statistical data and the systemization of that information should be pursued as short-term goals, with the assistance of multilateral cooperation agencies.

4. The plan for the strengthening of institutions must find ways to achieve coordination among organizations of civil society, and especially those that are already implementing plans and programmes in this area, so that national capacities can be focused on the integration of resources and efforts in the various biophysical regions that are vulnerable to natural disasters, and thus at risk of food insecurity.

5. The international community of donors contributing assistance in the case of emergency situations caused by natural disasters, and multilateral financial entities, must identify technical and financial options that make it possible to fulfil the offers made at the various meetings held by consultancy groups. This is especially important with respect to the restoration of productivity and food-sector infrastructure, with priority being given to small producers.

6. The Governments of countries affected by Hurricane Mitch must re-embrace food production as an essential component of their countries' development, based on the premise that access to adequate food and nutrition makes it possible to create the conditions under which individual potential can best be realized, employment generated, and productive-capacity expanded. The first step in this regard should be the creation of technical-assistance programmes in their various guises, enabling producers to participate as protagonists of their own development. The creation of national funds, with international assistance, to provide food aid to enable small producers to seek methods of technological and productive development that are appropriate to their living conditions and their environment, should be a national priority in each country, with preference being given to ethnic groups in a condition of extreme poverty, as well as to producers in outlying urban districts. These national funds can be organized on the basis of counter-value funds deriving from food donations.

7. A regional programme for the reduction of poverty and food insecurity should be formulated. Such a programme will require the active participation of women, as the mainstay of the family, providing the conditions needed to generate income deriving from actions designed to diversify production, and from changes in traditional habits and customs. The organization of these population segments into community-based groups, in extremely poor regions, should also be pursued.

8. The provision of food assistance by international cooperation agencies needs to be coordinated with self-sufficiency programmes targeted at small family-production units, focusing on production systems with diversification based on "food for work" programmes - especially in the case of those units that have traditionally concentrated on growing basic foods.

9. It does not appear that Belize has yet been incorporated into Central America. Given the level of organization within this new nation, regional and international agencies might begin to provide information and technical assistance. An attempt at South-South cooperation should also be made by the other countries in the region. As a first step, Belize's statistics should be integrated into the databases of regional agencies such as SICA, SIECA, CEPREDENAC and INCAP.

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