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By : Jorge Gavidia, Annalisa Crivel

A study conducted in Central America in 2003 shows that in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch noticeable progress was made in introducing new legislation for disaster management, understood as covering the whole cycle from prevention, preparedness and relief, to reconstruction. The new legislation includes civil defence or disaster management laws and regulations to improve their effectiveness in responding to the threat of natural disasters. A similar situation can be observed in other countries like Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The study looks into existing urban and municipal laws, regulations and planning guidelines to assess the extent to which they respond to vulnerability reduction criteria. This paper focuses on aspects of prevention and risk reduction. An attempt was made to look into the complementarities and gaps between the two sets of regulations for disaster management and for municipal/urban management. It is found that despite the many elements of good practice included in them, the links between these instruments are weak or absent on issues ranging from planning to the actual supervision of interventions on the built environment. Thus, the main elements of the edifice were there, but they did not constitute a solid, interconnected, structure, therefore, bound to fail under the loads imposed by rapid urbanisation, speculation, emergencies and weak governance structures. Institutions are often left to fend themselves in discharging their tasks. Without a coherent normative framework, and the capacity to apply it, their work is primarily driven by institutional initiative, leading to problems of underperformance, overlaps, gaps, and non-constructive competition. Thus, the institutional setup and normative framework become important factors in increasing vulnerability, as real as a building with the wrong foundations. The article reviews the mentioned aspects drawing from the experience in Central America, Cuba and Dominican Republic.
Keywords : Natural Disasters, Governance, Local Authorities, Legislation

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