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Focus on Latin America

October 2011

Combating Earthquakes, Volcanoes, Hurricanes and Floods

PhotoYoungsters learn firefighting techniques

When Hurricane Ida slammed into El Salvador in November, 2009, it triggered massive flooding and landslides and more than 300 persons were killed or went missing.

In the coastal village of Las Hojas there were no deaths and a later investigation attributed this at least partly to the fact that a disaster early warning system had been installed there by JICA.

As water levels began to rise dangerously upstream, the situation was transmitted to the village disaster prevention committee via a JICA donated wireless system. Alarm sirens were sounded throughout the village allowing local residents to quickly flee before floodwater could engulf them.

Not just El Salvador, but many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean region are prone to natural disasters—earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, flooding and landslides.

JICA has provided both emergency assistance on many occasions in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, including in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake which killed more than 220,000 people.

It has also participated in other long-term technical assistance projects. In 2001 around 12% of all of El Salvador's homes were destroyed by natural disasters. In a 5-year project begun in 2003 JICA helped to develop and build seismic resistant buildings for low-income families and in a follow-up project launched in 2009 it is helping to strengthen the country's building administration.

Following a Peruvian earthquake in 2007 which killed hundreds of people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, JICA experts helped to develop seismic resistant dwellings in devastated regions.

PhotoA popular activity called ‘frog caravans’ allow young Guatemalan students how to respond to natural disasters

In Guatemala and neighboring countries JICA has sponsored educational and ‘fun activities’ to make children as young as eight aware of the dangers and how to respond in various situations.

In Japan the frog is considered a friendly symbol promoting good feelings and so-called ‘frog caravans’ have toured schools, involving local officials, teachers and schoolchildren, and games teach children how to extinguish fires or rescue people trapped under rubble in the wake of an earthquake.

For the last several years the agency has also been working with El Salvador and five other Central American countries—Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama—on a Project on Capacity Development for Disaster Risk Management in Central America (Bosai).

Pilot communities in each country were chosen and experts gave advice on disaster prevention including measures to combat all types of natural catastrophes to which the regions are prone.

The villagers of Las Hojas and many other communities have no doubt about the effectiveness of the assistance.

"There was physical damage to the dwellings, but the most important thing is that there were no deaths," recalled community leader Francisco Oreliana. "I am very grateful to God, who gave us this opportunity, and to JICA's Bosai project, which gave us the necessary knowledge."

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