Every year hundreds of millions of people worldwide are affected by emergencies and disasters due to natural and man-made hazards. These events often have devastating impacts on human health, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, and illness and injury for millions of others. They damage health infrastructure, disrupt health systems, and severely affect the delivery of health services. A single disaster can set back development gains by many years, and prevent countries from reaching a range of health targets.
Today the scale of humanitarian need worldwide is the greatest ever recorded. A 2015 overview has estimated that 80 million people require humanitarian assistance, with costs of providing it estimated at $17.9 billion. Between January 2013 and July 2014, WHO declared six Grade 3 emergencies, the highest level of emergency response for WHO, as described in its Emergency Response Framework (ERF).
Statistics often obscure the impact that emergencies have on people’s lives, livelihoods, and dignity. The personal losses, the emotional and psychological impact, and the disruptions of communities and families can never be quantified – or adequately conveyed. Emergencies expose human vulnerabilities and the violations of human rights which often follow, along with stigmatization and exclusion. Fortunately, emergencies also draw forth the resilience and resourcefulness of individuals, families and communities, and these capacities are the main assets for withstanding the shocks associated with emergencies.
The purpose of this document is to outline how WHO contributes to the reduction of death, illness and disability from emergencies while promoting the wellbeing and dignity of those affected