Make communities more disaster resilient: WHO
6 June 2012, Bangkok: WHO has called on countries to invest more in strengthening the resilience of communities to save lives during disasters and emergencies. The UN health agency today applauded the efforts of community-based NGOs and community health volunteers at a Regional Meeting on Disaster Risk Management in Health in Bangkok.
“Communities have largely been the source of innovative ideas on how to better manage health risks during disasters and emergencies” said Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia. “Countries have also strengthened their national disaster management authorities and coordination of preparedness efforts with various sectors including NGOs and the private sector has improved tremendously in the recent years” he added.
Countries of WHO’s South-East Asia Region accounted for 46% of the total global deaths due to all disasters during 2001 - 2010. In recent years the Region has witnessed disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake, Cyclones Sidr in Bangladesh and Nargis in Myanmar and floods in Bangladesh and Thailand.
Health experts from ministries of health, NGOs, UN agencies and national disaster management agencies will discuss various issues at the meeting such as community resilience, information and research and strengthening integration of disaster risk management in the health sector. The health experts will take stock of current capacities as measured systematically using a benchmark system developed by WHO’s Regional Office for South-East Asia. The participants will also discuss the strategic directions to take this forward in the next few years and bring knowledge and practice to the communities.
The 2004 tsunami was the turning point in disaster risk management and countries in the Region built their capacity from the lessons learnt from the tsunami. This was clearly demonstrated by the 8.7 magnitude earthquake that hit the coast of Aceh in Indonesia on 11 April 2012. The earthquake lasted over four minutes and tremors were felt in India, Thailand, Maldives and Sri Lanka. In contrast to the 2004 tsunami, people were evacuated to higher-ground levels including all coastal communities from Aceh and Nias Island in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Thailand saving hundreds of lives.
Despite improvements in many areas, disaster risk management needs to be better integrated in the health sector. WHO is highlighting the need for awareness to ensure the safety of critical health infrastructure such as hospitals; research on health interventions for response to disasters; innovative community resilience approaches; and a more strategic approach to capacity development including incorporating this subject into existing medical and allied medical profession’s curricula. Consensus on these topics will provide directions for the next few years.