|Disasters in the Caribbean|
Disasters are, first and foremost, a social and health issue. In the last decade, more than 24 million persons in Latin America and the Caribbean have lost their lives, loved ones, homes, workplaces and possessions to natural or manmade disasters. Disasters have damaged or destroyed hospitals and health facilities, leaving many without access to health services. The direct cost of these losses has been estimated at US$3.12 billion.
Reducing vulnerability to disasters is a public health priority and therefore a responsibility of the Pan American Health Organization, Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization. The health sector must be prepared not only to meet the health needs of disaster victims but also to work to change behavior and practices that cause vulnerability and have repercussions on public health. Disaster risk reduction and management are therefore at the core of the current five-year (2008-2012) plan of the Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Area (PED) of PAHO/WHO.
Reducing the impact of disasters is essential to meeting the Millennium Development Goals and is a social and political requirement in its own right.
The PAHO/WHO PED Caribbean Sub-Regional Office works with the following 29 countries and territories to reduce their vulnerability to disasters: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, French Departments, Aruba and the Dutch Antilles, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic and Suriname.
The PED Office works primarily with the health sector disaster programs in the Ministries of Health, but includes the National Disaster Management Organizations in technical cooperation activities. There is as well ongoing collaboration with the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Response Agency (CDERA), Caribbean Health Organizations, the Red Cross, NGOs and bilateral institutions.
Preparing the health sector to face disasters is a permanent and ongoing responsibility. Disaster preparedness efforts enhance the capacity of the health sector to respond to all types of disasters, create awareness of the associated public health risks and improve the knowledge and skills of all health actors. Technical areas of work include information dissemination and management, hospital disaster preparedness, mass casualty management, evaluation of damage and needs, and humanitarian supply management.
PAHO/WHO encourages the Ministries of Health to promote a national culture of disaster prevention. Its own technical contribution focuses on improving the safety of health services. As an example, countries are urged to use existing knowledge and tools to build new hospitals with a level of protection that helps ensure they remain operational in disaster situations. They are also encouraged to examine the vulnerability of existing health facilities and incorporate appropriate disaster mitigation measures. This includes better protecting health personnel, equipment, infrastructure and non-structural assets from the impact of disasters. PAHO/WHO applies this same strategic approach to risk reduction in water and sewerage systems to safeguard this critical infrastructure.
In disaster situations, PAHO/WHO mobilizes its extensive network of public health experts to support the damage assessment and needs analyses processes in the health sector, support epidemiological surveillance and detection of potential health risks, monitor water quality and improve the overall coordination and leadership in the health sector. The logistics support system/humanitarian supply management system (LSS/SUMA) is activated to help bring order to the chaos that often results from the massive influx of international aid. PAHO/WHO also captures and publishes the lessons learned from major disasters in an attempt to improve the management of future emergency situations.
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