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Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief

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Hurricanes Katrina and Rita - August 2005

Hurricane Katrina made landfall near New Orleans, Louisiana on 29 August 2005, with sustained wind speeds of approximately 200 km/h. Katrina submerged 80% of the city under water. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services quickly declared a public health emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared an area roughly equivalent to the size of the United Kingdom as a disaster area.

The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization  collaborated with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at the federal and state levels and with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), providing technical collaboration in a number of public health areas.

Almost four weeks later, Hurricane Rita dealt another devastating blow to the same area, causing flooding to reoccur in New Orleans and other low-lying areas of the state of Louisiana. This time, however, the state of Texas suffered the direct brunt of the storm. The fact that several million people chose to heed evacuation warnings may have contributed to the reduced death toll.

As the emergency response phase gradually transitions into recovery and rehabilitation and as emergency lifesaving activities slowly wind down, other areas of public health emerge as important concerns: 

Safe Hospitals: an important opportunity is at hand to rebuild these critical facilities, incorporating disaster mitigation measures to reduce their vulnerability to the avoidable consequences of disasters. Read more.

Mental Health: Given the many pressing public health concerns in the aftermath of disasters, mental health care for disaster victims can be overlooked early on. Read more about mental health services and stress management.

International Aid: The arrival of aid from outside an affected area can pose a serious challenge, particularly if it has not been requested, is inappropriate for the situation or diverts personnel from other more pressing tasks. Read more about this issue.

Food Safety: another serious public health problem in the aftermath of disasters. Consult the guidelines produced by WHO and FAO on this topic and learn about links to other WHO publications that help reduce the threat to public health of inadequate food safety measures.

Health Effects of Disasters

Natural Disasters: Protecting the Public's Health PAHO’s flagship publication on managing the health effects of disasters, it has been translated into several languages.

Management of Dead Bodies A PAHO/WHO manual that calls attention to this disaster management issue and encourages authorities to make it part of disaster plans and a key component of humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian Supply Management and Logistics in the Health Sector These guidelines on basic aspects of the logistics of humanitarian supply management describe proper handling of supplies at each level of the logistics "chain." Some procedures are based on standards adopted by international organizations and others are the product of experience gained in the field. 

Disaster Mitigation in Health Facilities--Wind Effects Focuses on reducing the vulnerability of structural elements in hospitals and health facilities and non-structural elements (windows, shelving, etc.) and those special functions such as communication networks. 

Environmental Health in Emergencies and Disasters This volume distills what is known about environmental health during an emergency or disaster. It draws on results from the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, and on experience with sustainable development between the two Earth Summits, in Rio de Janeiro and Johannesburg. The volume is intended for practitioners, as well as for policy makers and researchers, and thus covers both general and technical aspects of environmental health.



  • CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has remained at the forefront of public health efforts to prevent and control infectious and chronic diseases, injuries, workplace hazards, disabilities, and environmental health threats. The CDC Foundation, the non-profit partner of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is seeking donations for the Emergency Preparedness & Response Fund. Contributions to the fund will aid CDC and the network of U.S. state and local health departments involved in the public health response to Hurricane Katrina. The CDC Foundation is using the fund to help meet immediate public health needs as well as to help plan for the long term public health needs of the region. Contributions can be made online at or by calling toll free, 1-888-880-4CDC.
  • Department of Health and Human Services HHS is the United States government's principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves.
  • FEMA The Federal Emergency Management Agency is tasked with leading U.S. efforts to prepare the nation for all hazards and effectively manage federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident.
  • American Red Cross Red Cross disaster relief focuses on meeting people's immediate emergency disaster-caused needs. When a disaster threatens or strikes, the Red Cross provides shelter, food, and health and mental health services to address basic human needs. In addition to these services, the core of Red Cross disaster relief is the assistance given to individuals and families affected by disaster to enable them to resume their normal daily activities independently.   
  • International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): In an effort to help restore family links, the ICRC - in close cooperation with the American Red Cross offers services to all those seeking information about relatives who may have been affected by hurricane Katrina.



Public Service Announcements

PAHO Produces Spanish-Language Radio Spots for the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

These ten 1-minute spots, produced in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), can be freely used by interested radio stations:

Children     Adolescents     Adults     Water              Food
Illnesses    Diabetes          Pets        Drug Safety     Carbon Monoxide



Rapid Needs and Assessment Forms

PAHO/WHO’s Disaster Response Team in Latin America and the Caribbean uses the forms below to standardize the early collection of data on damage and needs in the health sector following disasters. They can be modified as needed. 


Press Releases

United Nations Assistance for United States Relief Efforts

(New York, 6 September): The United Nations has initially mobilized three inter-agency teams to work on logistics and coordination in conjunction with United States authorities, having been informed on 3 September of the United States’ acceptance of the Organization’s offer of assistance. Read More


Katrina Raises Health Concerns
PAHO Director Offers Help to U.S. Health Secretary Mike Leavitt

Public health experts are evaluating the health impact of hurricane Katrina and its aftermath among survivors in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. (01 September 2005) Read More


Disaster Management Tools




Central American Ministers Express Condolences to Hurricane Victims

The Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic, at their annual RESSCAD meeting which opened August 31 in Belize, passed a resolution recognizing the tremendous health impact of the disaster, expressing their condolences to the victims and offering the collaboration of governments and agencies in the region. (Resolution)


Is there a risk of storm disease?
The US government has declared a public health emergency following Hurricane Katrina. But just how likely is it that diseases will take a hold?

Michael Leavitt, secretary of health and human services, said a public health emergency was in place from Louisiana to Florida. He warned there were grave concerns about cholera, typhoid and dehydrating diseases, while others said West Nile Virus could be a problem. But health experts are predicting the impact will be somewhat more limited. Read More (external link)




Intense Rains Cause Severe Damage in the Region

In the last few weeks, heavy rains, landslides and floods have affected several countries in the Region (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, among others), that have caused emergency situations with personal and material losses.

In these types of emergencies PAHO/WHO recommends that the population increase hygiene measures, including washing hands with soap and water, storing food and medicine properly, and paying attention to the recommendations from authorities regarding the consumption of safe water.

Read More

Tropical Storm Isaac

The final toll of Tropical Storm Isaac was two people dead in the U.S. and 24 in Haiti. In addition hundreds of thousands of people were left withtout electricity. In Haiti there was an increase in cholera cases and in the Dominican Republic  hundreds of people had to be moved to shelters. Also, in the Dominican Republic six hospitals and one health center were affected by the heavy rains. 

Read More

Floods in Central America

The low pressure system that has hit Central America since October 10 has caused floods and landslides affecting 600,000 people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua including 55,000 people displaced to 700 shelters in the countries. The Ministries of Health have reported damages to health centers and equipments, and loss of supplies. These issues put public health at risk if they are not addressed promptly. El Salvador has declared a national emergency, and Nicaragua and Guatemala has declared a state of emergency.

Read More


The Cholera Epidemic Maintains its Hold in Haiti (10/21/2010)

Heavy Rains and Landslides Affect Guatemala (09/08/2010)

Earthquake in Chile - February 2010 (02/27/2010)

Earthquake in Haiti - January 2010 (01/13/2010)

Hurricane Ida - November 2009 (11/09/2009)

Pandemic (H1N1) - 2009 (04/30/2009)

2008 Hurricane Season (09/30/2008)

Tropical Storms of 2008 (06/09/2008)

Tropical Storm Olga - December 2007 (12/14/2007)

Tropical Storm Noel - November 2007 (10/29/2007)

Hurricane Felix - September 2007 (09/06/2007)

Hurricane Dean in the Caribbean and Mexico - August 2007 (08/17/2007)

Earthquake in Peru - August 2007 (08/16/2007)

Methanol Poisoning in Leon, Nicaragua - September 2006 (09/18/2006)

Volcano Tungurahua - August 2006 (08/16/2006)

Floods in Suriname - May 2006 (05/10/2006)

Floods in Bolivia - January/February 2006 (01/31/2006)

Hurricane Wilma - October 2005 (10/25/2005)

Hurricane Stan Affects Central America - October 2005 (10/07/2005)

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita - August 2005 (08/29/2005)

Hurricane Jeanne - September 2004 (09/18/2004)

Hurricane Ivan - September 2004 (09/09/2004)

Hurricane Frances - August/September 2004 (09/01/2004)

Torrential Rains and Flooding in the Dominican Republic and Haiti - May 2004 (05/21/2004)

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