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Abstract

Risk management is a policy promoting the identification, analysis and quantification of the probability of damage that a natural hazard might cause, considering the vulnerability of the human environment and the ways to prevent and mitigate the losses in advance. In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) available information about causes and consequences of risk is scarce and barely matches the needs of project engineers and decision-makers. Average annual losses caused by major and ‘minor’ hazards (the latter usually not included in the statistics) amount to a large share of the development effort. Disasters provide evidence of the vulnerability of the countries, have a severe impact on the economic performance and social well-being through the loss of infrastructure, agricultural capacity, basic services, housing and environmental deterioration, and affect the quality of life of the poorest sectors of the population. Therefore, vulnerability is an economic problem with deep social roots. In LAC, the circumstances influencing the ex ante decision-making processes have not been favourable to prevention. Governments still reinforce reactive institutions, which are usually centralized. Delegation of tasks and responsibility to national planning entities, local governments and communities trails behind. Typically, local communities bear the brunt of the losses and do not participate in defining the ‘acceptable’ levels of risk. Therefore, it is evident that there is no such a thing as a ‘natural disaster’. The inclusion and adoption in investment projects of risk management criteria supported by engineering geology should start by increasing awareness, understanding and modelling of natural hazards, reducing vulnerability, and increasing social, environmental and economic resilience. This paper analyses practices based on experiences in LAC and proposes proactive risk management criteria.

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