600,000 People Lack Drinking Water in Venezuela After Disaster, new PAHO Report says

Washington, December 27, 1999 (PAHO)

  • The water supply systems of three Venezuelan states that were destroyed by recent floods have left some 600,000 people without drinking water, and portable water equipment is urgently needed, according to a new situation report from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

PAHO, which has mobilized its entire office in Caracas, comprising 32 staff members and brought in additional experts, is working with Venezuelan authorities to plan how to put back into working order the water and sanitation systems, as well as mobilize emergency aid and strengthen health sector coordination, the report from PAHO's Caracas office said.

Since the heavy rains, floods and mudslides left some 250,000 people homeless and as many as 30,000 dead, according to Venezuelan government figures, water authorities in the country have asked for PAHO support in obtaining three portable drinking water plants, 10 solar-powered chlorine generators, three desalinization plants, water testing kits, portable laboratory equipment, and other needs, the report said.

Venezuela has also designated PAHO as the coordinator for all international donations of drugs and other essential supplies, and guidelines for drug donations including an official list of needed drugs have been issued, according to Emergency Preparedness Program officials at PAHO. The list, frequently updated as the situation changes, is posted on the PAHO web site. ( ). All donated drugs must be on the Venezuelan government list , have a shelf life of 10-12 months, meet international quality standards, be clearly labeled in English, Spanish or Portuguese, and be transported to Venezuela, guidelines say.

International assistance is still arriving "in large quantities" daily in Venezuela and taxing distribution systems, according to the report, but PAHO's Humanitarian Supply Management System (SUMA) is being used to classify, sort, inventory and prioritize incoming supplies, with SUMA experts already in Venezuela and warehousing and distribution centers set up at various sites.

In terms of mental health, the disaster is likely to have huge repercussions and leave severe psychological problems and post-traumatic stress among survivors, the report said. The problems result from people losing family members, homes, jobs, and social support networks, and there is a large number of orphans, widows, widowers, and elderly who have lost family members. PAHO is working with health authorities training personnel who work with affected populations in preventive measures for mental health, providing public service messages and information, and other support.

Health authorities are on alert for any communicable disease outbreaks resulting from the disaster, though these are not common. Surveillance has been intensified especially in shelters, affected areas, and temporary quarters, with daily notification of any cases now required. Activities to reduce risks of disease have also begun, such as cleanup of trash, assuring quality of available drinking water, food hygiene and safety measures to prevent food-borne disease, installation of latrines or portable bathrooms near shelters, and repairs to sewer systems.

What the country most needs in terms of donations is cash, according to PAHO Deputy Director Dr. David Brandling-Bennett, because it can be immediately used for priority needs, while donations of clothes and other goods are difficult to ship, sort and store and place a burden on distribution systems.

The Pan American Health and Education Foundation, a non-profit foundation which works closely with PAHO, is accepting funds on behalf of the relief efforts of PAHO/WHO to assist with Venezuelan Flood Relief. "All financial contributions to this fund are welcome, no matter the size," said its Executive Director, Jess Gersky, and are tax-deductible.

She said donors can write checks, in any amount, payable to Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF) with a note that the gift is restricted to the Venezuelan Flood Relief Fund and send them to PAHEF, 525 Twenty-third Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037. They can also wire transfer gifts from a bank. "Gifts of appreciated stock can also be received and offer tax advantages to the donor," she said. Those interested can contact the foundation at

The Pan American Health Organization, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and raise the living standards of their peoples. It serves as the Regional Office of the World Health Organization, and has offices in 27 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as nine scientific and technical centers apart from its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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