Preparedness important to tackle impacts of natural disasters: WHO

The World Health Organization’s Southeast Asia Region Office (WHO SEARO) says it is important for countries to develop emergency preparedness that ensures that their people are much safer and sustain less damage during an emergency situation caused by natural disasters.

WHO SEARO regional director Poonam Khetrapal Singh said the massive earthquake that created the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was a turning point for countries of the world to be more aware of the importance of preparedness as it would enable them to carry out emergency responses to similar natural disasters anywhere and at any time.

“Ten years ago, on Dec. 26, 2004, a massive tsunami struck countries in the Southeast Asia region, causing deaths, damages and losses on a scale that had never been imagined before. It killed almost 200,000 people, destroyed 800 health facilities, and swept away livelihoods of coastal communities in the area,” she said in a release to commemorate a decade after the 2004 tsunami on Tuesday.

Singh said integrated efforts had taken place since the devastating natural disaster during which WHO SEARO together with WHO representatives in tsunami-affected countries cooperated to develop a disaster preparedness plan for an emergency situation and to boost emergency response capacity for similar disasters.

“A number of documents for emergency preparedness and response or WHO Benchmarks has been compiled by SEARO. It comprises standards, indicators and check lists to assess the availability of legal, planning, and financial support, as well as coordination mechanism, public capacity and early warning system,” said Singh.

She further said WHO had also established the Southeast Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund (SEARHEF) for emergency funding that often could not be predicted.

The WHO Benchmarks have been used by its member countries for assessment and capacity development for risk management in the health sector in Indonesia.

“Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and Maldives have continued to increase the capacity of systems they have built with experience and facilities developed based on lessons learned from the 2004 tsunami. Even countries not affected by tsunami can benefit [from] the lessons learned,” she said.

WHO Benchmarks and SEARHEFF, developed after the 2004 tsunami, were used in disaster preparedness initiatives in the following years. As a result, many countries have had their preparedness and emergency response capacity significantly improved, as what had appeared during a strong earthquake in Sumatra on April 11, 2012.

“Immediate evacuations, early warning in all Southeast Asia areas and governments and people’s joint actions could push down damages and particularly, deaths,” said Singh. (ebf)


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