In a region with 600 million people where approximately 180 million people live below the poverty line and 71 million people are homeless, according to the UN-Habitat, inequality and poverty are two main problems impacting the Latin America and Caribbean population.
Despite economic growth and increased disaster management and risk reduction capacity, the region is heavily affected by numerous small and medium scale natural disasters. On average 10 million people are affected by natural disasters each year, and poverty, coupled with the world’s leading levels of inequality, severely exacerbates people’s vulnerability, leaving them with few resources on which to draw during emergencies. Nevertheless, global attention to humanitarian needs in the region is low, and results in a consistent shortfall in humanitarian funding.
The region has also witnessed a growth of of inter-governmental organizations and forums with disaster management mandates and objectives. While this has increased regional capacity, it has also created a complex coordination environment. To address this challenges, ROLAC has organized yearly Regional Meetings on International Humanitarian Assistance Mechanisms (MIAH). In 2012, OCHA, together with Government of Panama, organized the V MIAH with participation from USG Valerie Amos and other high level authorities from the region. It culminated in a common Plan of Action, with humanitarian actors throughout the region committing to the development of stronger humanitarian mechanisms, partnerships and coordination efforts.
OCHA has also strengthened its relationship with countries and assisted disaster preparedness activities such as simulation exercises. ROLAC facilitated simulation exercises with humanitarian actors in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Honduras, Peru and elsewhere. Other preparedness exercises included post-response lessons learned activities, the development of response protocol and Mexico’s first INSARAG earthquake response simulation exercise. OCHA’s first high-level mission to Brazil during April 2012, was also an opportunity to enhance relationships and support humanitarian dialogue in the region and globally.
Another key partnership and coordination effort that OCHA chairs is the Regional Risk and Emergency Disaster Task Force (REDLAC), as a mechanism to promote coherence for interagency preparedness and response measures from the regional to the country level. In 2012, the regional clusters for education and the shelter and a donors’ technical working were established, adding to the strength of the regional coordination. REDLAC continues to be a key vehicle of support and inclusion of NGOs in the humanitarian architecture and the overall humanitarian response and preparedness coordination. Its yearly Plan of Action reflects the collective priorities and capacities of the humanitarian actors in the region.
One of the key REDLAC and OCHA vehicles for coordination at the country level are the Humanitarian Country Teams that have been formally established in more than eight countries under the joint leadership of the UNRC and the Government. These have proven to be an effective mechanism for joint planning and coordination.
During recent response actions in the region, NGO participation has also been strengthened, notably in Cuba reflecting a positive result of the ROLAC strategy of engagement with Cuban authorities over the last several years. In Guatemala the UNDAC and ROLAC response also provided a forum for strengthening NGO participation in the Red Humanitarian (HCT) and in humanitarian assessments and CERF request preparation. Here and elsewhere NGOs expressed appreciation for this increased access to strategic discussions both in country and at the regional level.
During the past five years, Redhum has emerged as one of the main virtual hubs of humanitarian information with over a 100 disasters covered, and approximately 2 million pages visits. During 2012 the website was redesigned to keep in tune with the new technological trends. Among other functions, Redhum launched its version for tablets and smartphones, allowing more users to rapidly access information. During 2012 it also expanded its contribution to ROLAC’s capacity building efforts with some 1500 people participating in training sessions and an online course in Information Management.
Though there were no large scale emergencies in LAC during 2012, several events had important effects in the region and OCHA has played a key role in coordination and mobilization of humanitarian assistance. According to Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), over 3 million people were affected by Hurricane Sandy in Cuba (October 2012) and an earthquake in Guatemala (November 2012). International response to the storm in Cuba included the mobilization more than $1.5 million in immediate assistance, the provision of $5.5 million in CERF funds and the development of a consolidated Plan of Action. OCHA’s role was critical in coordinating regional support from humanitarian actors and helping the UN system in-country to provide coherent and consistent support to Cuba.
In Guatemala following the earthquake, OCHA contributed $65,000 in Emergency Funds and a $1.6 million in CERF funding. A UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team piloted OCHA’s new Multi-Cluster/Sector Initial Rapid Assessment methodology (MIRA). The recommendations were well received by the Government and OCHA expects that more training sessions on the subject will create the awareness necessary to consolidate the methodology as good practice to be adapted and used by other countries.
In May 2012, $2.2 million in CERF funds was approved to support the response to flooding in Loreto Department, Peru. The flooding affected more than 290,000 people. With these funds and the coordination support provided by OCHA staff in country, three United Nations agencies and the International Organization for Migration assisted more than 100,000 people. OCHA facilitated the coordination between humanitarian actors, and supported authorities in implementing and monitoring CERF funds.
In Paraguay, recurring drought in the central region of the country and flooding in the western and northern Chaco region led to an UNDAC mission and to joint assessment by the Government and the United Nations. The response included $2.6 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for five agencies to continue efforts in agriculture, education, food, health, non-food items and shelter.
 Eleven countries, four subregional organizations, two international organizations, one intergovernmental organization and one donor committed to agreed activities.