Dominican Republic: Ready to act when faced with disaster

participant of disaster training
A participant receives training on disaster prevention in Puerta Plata. Photo credit: Benjamín Pérez Espinal/UNDP Dominican Republic

In Puerto Plata, a city of high seismic risk and 150,000 inhabitants, an estimated 70 percent of buildings are precarious in structure. Most of these buildings are inhabited by poor families who cannot afford to pay for professional construction, and therefore have no option but to use the services of master builders, not always qualified for the task at hand, to design a safe structure for their homes.

To protect the infrastructure of the municipalities of the province, a UNDP project, "Communities Resilient to Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Puerto Plata", with the Dominican College of Engineers, Architects and Surveyors (CODIA ) and the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD), trained 200 master builders and 30 professional engineers and architects on earthquake-resistant building, and conducted workshops for municipal officials.

Professionals who received training provided free advice to over 100 low-income families starting the construction or expansion of their homes. Furthermore, about 1,000 families were briefed on how to construct quake-resistant buildings through the distribution of flyers with information on existing national regulations.

Highlights

  • According to UNDP estimates, 70 percent of the buildings in Puerto Plata are precarious in nature.
  • The project was funded by the European Commission, with UNDP core funding.
  • Eight temporary shelters were provided, and 10,000 people were briefed regarding their location and facilities.
  • About 1,000 families were briefed on how to construct quake-resistant buildings.

"To begin to build sound structures, it is essential that municipalities, national authorities and civil society promote public policies that result in good construction, strengthen those buildings in need of it, provide follow-up monitoring of the buildings, and educate the public about risks and risk prevention methods. This course of action calls for consensus on a large scale," explains project coordinator Dennis Funes.

In 2012, UNDP reached out to and consulted with municipal and provincial authorities in Puerto Plata resulting in the signing of the "Puerto Plata Declaration" establishing a political undertaking to include a budget for the management of projects to reduce the risk of disaster.

As part of the project, 32 facilitators who belong to the Civil Defense, Red Cross and the Fire Department of the province, were also trained in disaster prevention. The facilitators conduct awareness and community organization campaigns in five of the areas in Puerta Plata most vulnerable to disaster, through workshops that include lectures, plays, puppet shows, dances and drills aimed at promoting a culture of prevention.

The project also provided 34 radio stations and 16 antennas for relief agencies such as fire departments and the civil defense. These have helped to improve efficiency in transporting patients to hospitals in the city of Luperon.

Moreover, eight temporary shelters have been identified and improved, and more than 200 staff in key institutions have been trained in the proper management of these centres. A awareness-raising campaign educated 10,000 people in high risk areas on the use and location of these and other shelters.

"I've learned to develop greater awareness, and recognize that in the area of construction one must safeguard both one's own life and the lives of those who will ultimately reside in that house," says master builder, Carmelo Henríquez.

After the training, the master builders took the examination set by the Ministry of Public Works for obtaining the construction license at the national level. Soon, municipalities will also be authorized to certify master builders, so that low-income families, and engineers who engage the services of the master builders, can be confident they are hiring personnel that are properly accredited and committed to quality.

"What this project has proven is that, despite financial constraints, if we raise awareness among civil society, builders, authorities and media, and educate society well in general, we can build cities that are more resilient to natural phenomena, and thereby prevent disasters from slowing down urban development,” emphasizes Dennis Funes.

It is expected that this initiative will be replicated in other cities in the country, and in the Greater Santo Domingo area.