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Specification sheets on hazards - Characteristics of natural disasters

The hazard

  • Wildfires, occurring recurrently, can be started both by people and by acts of nature. They are often associated with slash and burn activities, which in times of drought, can escape. In 50% of the cases it is not known how the fires start. Negligence of people often plays a role.
  • People and animals die, crops and resources are destroyed. The damage often being of a large magnitude. Traffic, aircraft and ship accidents can occur.
  • Smoke can adversely affect the health of large groups of people outside the immediate area of the wildfire.
  • Vegetation fires, mostly caused by humans, can be predicted and in many cases prevented through the application of appropriate policies.
  • Huge fires may not be able to be controlled, peat fires cannot be controlled.
  • Vegetation fires can create elevated levels of gases and particle air pollution over a long period of time.

Health Guidelines for Vegetation Fire Events

Vegetation fires, particularly when they are uncontrolled, are a substancial source of air contamination in urban and rural areas. They affect health services and access to medical care, and increase environmental deterioration. Contamination from forest fires primarily affects women, who are exposed to high levels of contamination at home, and elevate the risk of acute respiratory infections in children, one of the main causes of infant death in developing countries.


Guidelines for Foreign Medical Teams after Disasters

In December 2010, 26 experts from the international humanitarian community met in Cuba to discuss the use of field hospitals and foreign medical teams during emergency situations. The topics that were of most concern to participants were how to ensure that field hospitals or medical teams meet required standards and how to coordinate them so that they support national efforts. These minimum standards for foreign medical teams in case of disasters are a product of the discussions that took place.

Download the guidelines


Guidelines for Safe Disposal of Pharmaceuticals

During conflicts and natural disasters large quantities of pharmaceuticals are often donated as part of humanitarian assistance. Undoubtedly many of the pharmaceuticals save lives and alleviate suffering, but some donations given by well-meaning but uninformed people may cause problems. Download the WHO publication


Organization of Medical Services

The organization of medical services, will depend on the type of the disaster, its magnitude, and its location. The structure of the system of health existing in the country and in the region should be taken into account so that the available resources are used advantage of well, before requesting reinforcements.


Offers and Requests for External Medical Teams

Many large-scale disasters attract broad coverage by the international media and images of death and destruction circulate the globe in just a matter of minutes. At times these images can be out of proportion with the actual situation at the disaster site, but unfortunately, the media may believe that this is what their "clients" want to see.


Field Hospitals in Disasters

The experience of countries affected by large-scale natural disasters in the Americas has revealed very specific humanitarian needs in the health sector. However, contrary to what the national and international press reports, most of the supplies that are needed to meet the immediate needs are already available in the country.


Rapid Needs Assessment

Immediately following a disaster, the needs of the population must be assessed as part of the comprehensive approach that the responsible national authorities employ to the overall situation.


Domestic Violence and Violence in Temporary Shelters

People's behavior changes during emergencies, as do the ways in which they express their emotions. There is frustration and anguish which, among other things, fosters acts of violence among families, chiefly against women, children, the elderly, and handicapped persons. These outbreaks can occur in the home setting, in public, and in shelters or temporary refuges.

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