Organization of American States

December 2004


The Organization of American States (OAS) uses the Inter-American System to address disaster reduction issues of its member states. The OAS General Assembly has created the Inter-American Committee for Natural Disaster Reduction (IACNDR) as the principal policy forum to discuss natural disaster reduction issues in the Americas, and it has adopted the Inter-American Strategic Plan for Policy on Vulnerability Reduction, Risk Management and Disaster Response (IASP). The OAS General Secretariat actively supports implementation of the IASP by the member states to reduce the loss of human life and property, improve emergency preparedness and response, and facilitate financial protection from hazard risk. The Committee on Hemispheric Security (CHS) of the OAS Permanent Council leads the inter-member state discussion of natural hazard management issues. This hemispheric policy approach is unique in the global context, and it is complemented by technical cooperation, capacity building and technology transfer activities at all levels through the OAS General Secretariat.


The OAS is composed of the 35 independent nations of the hemisphere to strengthen cooperation and advance common interests, and serves as the region’s main forum for multilateral dialogue and concerted action. At the core of the OAS mission is a commitment to democracy, peace and security. The OAS works to promote good governance, strengthen human rights, foster peace and security, expand trade, and address the complex problems caused by poverty, drugs and corruption. Nations from around the world serve as permanent observers, supporting the dialogue and activities of the Inter-American System.

The program of natural hazard risk management is in the General Secretariat’s Office for Sustainable Development and Environment (OSDE). Also under the OAS umbrella are several specialised agencies including the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), both of which promote disaster reduction efforts.


The General Secretariat has been working for over three decades with individual member states and sectors, as well as with inter-American sector organisations (agriculture, education, health, telecommunications, transportation, and tourism), to reduce vulnerability of economic and social infrastructure to natural hazards through policy and technical cooperation initiatives. Most recently, the OAS has undertaken regional programs in the Caribbean on strengthening national capacity to use development activities to reduce vulnerability to climate hazards, and hemispheric programs on disaster reduction of university campuses in the Americas and for small business continuity in collaboration with the private sector. It is also collaborating with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) on the Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (VCA) Toolkit for Latin American and Caribbean regions.

Other OAS projects with member states include natural hazard risk reduction and adaptation to climate change; assisting with vulnerability assessments and hazard mapping and mitigation; establishing safer building practices, helping countries cope with damage, and strengthening insurance industries; implementing natural hazard related components of development projects; and supporting regional and community-level capacity building for risk management. These activities are being reviewed and reprogrammed as needed in the wake of the damage caused by the 2004 hurricane season.

Current issues of importance to the OAS as reflected in the deliberations of the CHS include (a) vulnerability assessments in development planning and financing as part of mainstream lending as well as stand alone mitigation and reconstruction projects; (b) risk reduction as a cross-cutting theme to be addressed in sector policies rather than a stand-alone issue dissociated from mainstream sector development; (c) environmental management of ecosystems as a critical partner in vulnerability reduction in all landscape settings; and (d) natural hazard information including extreme climate events and climate variability information for small island developing states and continental coastal areas as a public good; and vulnerability reduction of the poor outside the context of cost-benefit analysis, loans, and dedicated international cooperation budgets.

Of equal concern are the thematic areas of public participation, governance, accountability, and responsibility in institutional and policy frameworks for risk reduction. In this regard, the OAS is pursuing a more open and prominent dialogue on the role of non-governmental organisations in disaster relief, reconstruction, and rehabilitation; technical support for mutually acceptable norms for post-disaster reconstruction between the affected country and the international community; and the role of the uniformed services in emergency management and risk reduction. Finally, through the IACNDR, OAS Member States are being briefed on the implications and uses of disaster risk indexing initiatives such as the United Nations Development Programme Disaster Risk Index, World Economic Forum Environmental Sustainability Index, Inter-American Bank Indicators for Disaster Risk Management, and the ProVention/World Bank Hotspots Project.

For further information on the OAS’s activities, see

Represented in the IACNDR are the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Pan American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH), Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), and Inter- American Agency for Cooperation and Development (IACD), and by invitation, the United Nations, World Bank, International Committee of the Red Cross, Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), Inter-American Defense Board (IADB), Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA), and Coordination Center for the Prevention of Natural Disasters in Central America (CEPREDENAC).