Canning Paper Presentation: Natural Disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean

On Tuesday 2nd October, Canning House presented the latest Canning Paper on Natural Disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean. The paper was authored by Mat Youkee, a journalist and analyst covering Latin America and the Caribbean from his base in Bogota. The paper sought to outline the scale and diversity of the threat natural disasters pose to Latin America and the Caribbean and to set out what options are available to governments and citizens to prepare, mitigate and respond to their occurrence.



Andrew Thompson, Editor at LatinNews, elaborated on the key findings of the paper. He explained that there are worrying trends that demand further research. Natural disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean are on the rise, particularly meteorological events such as tropical storms and flash floods. Though less people are dying (a positive trend noted) natural disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean continue to hinder economic growth considerably, and exacerbate inequality and poverty in the region.

Mike Noyes, Director of Policy Advocacy and Programmes at ActionAid UK, then spoke about what it was like to work on the ground in Latin America and the Caribbean. ActionAid UK has worked with some of the poorest members of society affected by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. Noyes emphasised the need for quick, effective response; working with women and local leaders, in particular, to guarantee safeguarding of individuals who are most vulnerable following a natural disaster.

Dr Carmen Solana, a volcanologist and Course leader of Geological Hazards at the University of Portsmouth, built on Mike’s observations, highlighting the need for improved response; not just better monitoring and forecasting. The eruption of Fuego Volcano in Guatemala illustrates how unpredictable volcanic eruptions can be. Dr Solana stressed the importance of educating citizens about evacuation and emergency response, and called for a comprehensive international effort that transcends frontiers.

Dr Richard Teeuw, principal lecturer at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, spoke about the technologies that can be harnessed to increase preparedness and response. Satellite and drone technologies can be used to identify where the most dangerous zones are, and where the most vulnerable people are. Dr Teeuw’s research has focused principally on monitoring illegal gold mining in the Chocó region in Colombia, using radar technology to penetrate thick cloud cover to identify changes in the landscape. Radar and data cube technology could be equally useful in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, as well as measuring long-term environmental changes that increase risk of disaster.

Mark Cleverley, Head of Public Sector and Partnerships at Ecometrica, spoke about how Earth Observation (EO) and Space Observation (SO) data can be extremely useful in natural disaster mitigation. Remote sensors on earth and in space can be used not only to monitor and forecast (e.g. water sensors to anticipate tsunamis) but also in response (e.g. to measure air quality following a natural disaster). Increasingly this data can be utilised and analysed by non-experts. Ecometrica works to help create actionable insights for businesses, government and society from this data.

Mat Youkee joined in for the Q&A remotely from his base in Bogota. He emphasised the importance of local, national and international strategies for disaster preparedness and response. The difficulty of galvanising political will continues to be an obstacle. Better education and more funding at all levels are needed to increase the salience of the issue.

The event was chaired by Cristina Cortes, CEO at Canning House.