World

Venezuelans, Colombians Feel Unprepared for Natural Disasters

by Jesus Rios

Majorities believe families, police, hospitals lack preparation

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The governments of Colombia and Venezuela each declared states of emergency this month in vast areas of their countries where record flooding and landslides have killed more than 250 people and left more than 1 million homeless. Recent Gallup surveys in the two nations find that fewer than one in three believe they personally are ready to deal with natural disasters such as this.

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Venezuelans and Colombians give the Red Cross much higher marks than they give themselves or any other institutions, with roughly 7 in 10 in each country saying this institution is ready to deal with natural disasters. Roughly half or more of respondents believe their governments, military, and fire departments are ready, while about 4 in 10 think the same of the police, the local hospitals, and charities.

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While Venezuelans and Colombians are generally more positive about disaster readiness than those in the Latin American region overall, their views suggest that the rain disasters likely caught the populations of these two countries unprepared. Their opinions reveal uncertainty about their governments' competence to lead the relief and recovery efforts. Both populations also seem concerned about the readiness of their hospitals and law enforcement bodies to provide the necessary response.

Venezuelans, Colombians Look to U.S.

Gallup also asked respondents which country they believed would be the first one to assist them if there was a natural disaster and which one would provide the most help. Most Colombians look to the United States as their most important source of prompt and substantial assistance. Venezuelans are far less likely to expect the U.S. to help them.

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While 67% of Colombians say the U.S. would be the first country to help and 70% believe it would provide the most help, 17% and 21% of Venezuelans believe the same, respectively. Importantly, though these two countries are located approximately the same distance from the U.S., their diplomatic relations with the U.S. differ enormously. Colombia is a key U.S. ally in Latin America, while Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is a well-known U.S adversary.

Venezuelans also seem to feel more helpless than Colombians with regard to humanitarian help from abroad, as 37% had no opinion about which country would be the first to help them in case of a natural disaster and 41% had no opinion about which would provide the most help (the comparative figures for Colombia are 16% and 17%, respectively). Venezuelans are also more likely to expect help from neighboring Colombia than Colombians are to expect the same from Venezuela. Despite strong historical and cultural ties, diplomatic relations between the two nations have been extremely tense over the past five years.

Implications

The rain disasters in Venezuela and Colombia follow similar events in Mexico and devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, capping a year of massive losses in terms of lives and infrastructure in Latin America. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2010 the region suffered 98 natural disasters that killed more than 220,000 people, affected 14 million people, and caused damage costing more than $49 billion.

In a recent report from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), Hector Malarin of the IADB's Rural Development, Environment, and Disaster Risk Management division states that "The region faces significant levels of risk that have apparently not been fully gauged by policymakers and society in general. Latin America and the Caribbean have shown unsatisfactory levels of risk management."

Gallup results show that residents of Colombia and Venezuela would likely concur with this assessment, underscoring the need for action toward strengthening the disaster-response leadership, systems, and institutions in these countries. The surveys also shed light on the importance of multilateral cooperation and effective diplomacy among neighboring countries for enhancing disaster preparedness and alleviating Latin Americans' sense of helplessness in the face of catastrophes.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact SocialandEconomicAnalysis@gallup.com or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults per country, aged 15 and older, conducted in July and August 2010 in Venezuela and Colombia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.6 percentage points in Colombia and ±4.1 percentage points in Venezuela. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

The comparative figures for Latin America are based on identical surveys conducted in 18 Latin American countries during the same period.

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