FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Small disasters, great damages

Small-scale disasters accounted for more than half of human loses caused by climate events in Latin America and the Caribbean between 1990 and 2014.

Some 1.4 million Haitians require food assistance in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. ©FAO/Gianluca Gondolini

March 6th, 2017, Santiago, Chile - Smaller but more frequent disasters accounted for up to half of deaths caused by climate events in Latin America and the Caribbean between 1990 and 2014, FAO said today.

According to a joint FAO / UNISDR-Americas document (Spanish only), developed to serve as a basis for a regional risk management strategy for the agricultural sector in Latin America and the Caribbean, there has been an increase in losses associated with small-scale disasters, known as "extensive events".

These are small-scale but high-frequency events that result in fewer loss of life (less than 25 fatalities) and damage to infrastructure (less than 300 homes destroyed), so they commonly go unnoticed in public opinion.

Intensive phenomena, on the other hand, are those that cause major impacts and commonly attract media attention, generating a reaction from the humanitarian community.

Between 1990 and 2014, for each intensive event there were 177 extensive events. Cumulatively, these "silent disasters" generated more than half of all human losses due to climate events: 22,400 casualties. Extensive events affected more than 90% of people affected by climate disasters during that period: a total of 115 million people.

"These types of disasters undermine the resilience of people and farming systems, increasing their vulnerability with each new hit," said FAO’s Risk Management Officer, Anna Ricoy.

Latin America and the Caribbean builds its regional risk management strategy

As part of their plan to eradicate hunger – the CELAC FNS Plan - the countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States requested support from FAO to build a regional disaster risk management strategy for the agricultural sector and for food and nutritional security.

From March 7 to 9, regional experts, ministers and government officials will work to lay the groundwork for this strategy during a side event held at the Fifth Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas held in Montreal, Canada.

"It is crucial to link risk management with hunger eradication," Ricoy said, adding that the regional strategy will be in line with the main policy agreement of this nature at the global level, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

Extreme weather and climate change: the main threats

Disasters linked to climate total 70% of all emergencies affecting the region and have the greatest negative effect.

While climate change is expected to increase climate variability and the frequency and magnitude of extreme events, according to the Global Climate Risk Index, 5 of the 10 countries with the highest risk are from Latin America and the Caribbean: Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

For this reason, one of the recommendations of FAO for the regional disaster risk strategy is the need to articulate the efforts made to adapt to climate change with disaster risk management.

Sustainable use of natural resources

The deterioration of natural resources is a factor that increases risk, which is why sustainable management of these resources is becoming a necessity.

Restoration of forests and degraded lands, for example, favors the control of erosion and regulates droughts and floods, contributing to reduce the impact of extreme climate events.

According to FAO, the regional strategy for disaster risk management should consider land planning and land use, promoting actions to recover the region’s degraded natural resources.

Protecting the agricultural sector and family farming

The agricultural sector is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. These damage food crops and the resources that sustain regional food security.

FAO estimates that between 2003 and 2013, the agricultural sector suffered 22 percent of the losses and damages caused by medium and high intensity disasters in developing countries.

This situation is especially important in a food producing region such as Latin America and the Caribbean, where the agricultural sector - which employs almost one third of the working population- suffered 13 percent of the damages caused by disasters.

Another FAO recommendation for the regional risk management strategy for the agricultural sector is to focus attention on family agriculture. "It is necessary to adopt technologies and management innovations adjusted to the particular needs of these producers," explained Ricoy.

Anticipating risks with an integrated approach

According to FAO, countries need to shift from responding to emergencies to managing the complex processes that lead to these situations, with greater emphasis on disaster risk reduction and management.

This requires adopting a set of interrelated practices throughout all sectors in an integrated manner.

In this sense, the regional risk management strategy can become a fundamental tool to support this process, as it will provide clear guidance to countries in the region on how to improve their prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.