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World Humanitarian Day 2016: Staff profiles

Staff profiles: Anna - South America and the Caribbean

South America and the Caribbean is an extremely disaster-prone region. Frequently recurring floods, hurricanes and earthquakes erode the resilience of affected communities. The 2015/16 El Niño weather phenomenon has led to extreme drought conditions and severe weather patterns in parts of the region, which has had a devastating effect on food security and the agricultural livelihoods of millions of farming households.

Anna RICOY has been working for FAO for nine years and is currently the regional Disaster Risk Management Officer based in Santiago, Chile and works in FAO’s regional office for Central and South America. She shares some of her experiences about her work in this region.

What motivated you to work in the humanitarian field?
The possibility to make a positive contribution through a job that is in alignment with my values and mindset, and in an international setting, within a community of people who share similar values and aspirations.

Can you describe how El Nino has affected food security in the country? And what does that mean for the livelihoods of those that depend on agriculture?
In the region there are still 34.3 million people that are food insecure, most of them live in rural areas and are smallholders. The impacts of El Niño - i.e. severe drought in Central America and the Caribbean and intense rainfall/drought in some areas of South America, threaten the livelihoods of smallholders that depend on agriculture. Family farming is therefore particularly at risk. Disasters don’t just have immediate, short-term effects on production, they effect households’ incomes and opportunities. They also undermine livelihoods and threaten food security. In some countries it is survival that is at stake.

How is FAO responding to the El Nino emergency?
In the Central American and the Caribbean, FAO in collaboration with UN country team, is supporting Governments in assessing and monitoring the situation, as well as assisting in the implementation of Drought National Action Plans. FAO has been implementing emergency assistance in livelihood rehabilitation activities (from 2014). In the Dry Corridor region, FAO is supporting a long-term programmatic approach that responds to the diverse livelihoods of poor and vulnerable households and to the complex set of factors that contribute to disaster risk.

In South America, FAO continues to strengthen the resilience to climate and disaster risk through several initiatives. For example, facilitating the formulation/implementation of Plans of Action for disaster risk management in the agriculture sectors in Paraguay and Perú, strengthening of the national early warning systems for agro-climatic risks in Bolivia, Perú and Paraguay; strengthening preparedness for response through protection of livestock assets, establishment of seed banks, and recovering farming and livestock assets of indigenous communities in Colombia.

What is the current focus of FAO’s emergency response in El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras?
Distribution of agricultural inputs to boost or implement family backyard short-cycle production and distribution of poultry pens. Rehabilitation of small productive infrastructure of micro-irrigation and water harvesting for rapid implementation of agricultural activities. And technical support and training: backyard management, seed collection, irrigation, rain water harvesting, productive, reproductive management and prophylaxis of laying birds.

What is your current role with FAO and what does it involve?
My work involves providing support to FAO’s risk reduction and resilience programming in the LAC region, in coordination with FAO subregional offices, and FAO Representations. I promote FAO’s resilience role and programme with government partners, UN agencies, NGOs and resources partners by raising awareness on FAO comparative advantages; facilitating partnerships and synergies; ensuring close collaboration and coordination; and mobilizing funds. It also involves to formulate and implement strategies for meeting emergency assistance and risk reduction management needs, in consultation with national experts, resources partners, UN agencies and other organizations.

What motivates you to work in the agriculture and food security sector?
Agriculture (livestock, fisheries, forestry and natural resources) is the backbone of our daily food choices, of landscape management, of provision of ecosystem services. Agriculture choices determine how we manage our food, cultural, social and environmental systems, it is about life! What is at stake is the type of world we want to live in.

Can you share your most inspiring moment in humanitarian work and what have you been most proud about?
One recent inspiring moment is the timely emergency response to the earthquake (7.8 Richter scale) that hit northern Ecuador in April 2016. The Government declared a “State of Exception” in 6 provinces. It resulted in hundreds of dead, thousands of injured people and many buildings and roads destroyed or damaged. In that occasion we were able to show that FAO has the mechanisms in place to respond quickly to the request of a country stricken by a disaster.

What is it like working in an emergency environment?
I do not work in an emergency environment all the time, only at times when disasters strike. It can be stressful, intense and challenging because we work under pressure. Key aspects are team work among FAO colleagues at different locations, and good coordination among UN agencies and other humanitarian partners.

What are the biggest challenges for you and how do you cope?
One recurrent challenge is the need to act in a timely and concerted manner following an emergency, and being able to analyse and formulate programmes that often respond to complex situations, in short timeframes. It is crucial to count on technical multidisciplinary teams and rely on proper coordination mechanisms between the FAO offices at all levels.

What are the biggest challenges facing FAO in the location where you are?
In the Latin American region, 70 percent of emergencies are associated with climate-related disasters. The global climate risk index reveals that five out of the 10 countries most at risk in this region (these include Guatemala, Honduras, Haití, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic). In the past few years there has been an increase in damages and losses related to extensive risks, that is risks that typically do not generate a sudden mass media attention, but pass almost unnoticed (like the recurrent drought in the Dry Corridor of Central America which erodes livelihoods year after year). Resource mobilization for these type of ¨silent disasters¨ remains a challenge.