61. Natural Disaster Mitigation and Relief


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Richard Lord, www.rlordphoto.com

Disasters are unusual public health events that overwhelm the coping capacity of the affected community. They can be classified as natural, technological, or complex emergencies, such as civil wars and conflicts.

Health and economic losses of natural disasters disproportionately affect developing countries. Vulnerability to disasters is linked to several factors, such as population growth, unplanned development, and climate change. The immediate health burden is directly dependent on the nature of the hazard. Economic valuation of the social burden of the disaster becomes a critical tool for allocating scarce resources.

The emotional and sensationalized climate of disaster response has prevented the adoption of a cost–effectiveness approach in decision making. Emergency health interventions like temporary shelters and field hospitals are indisputably more costly and less effective than time–tested health activities. Cash assistance is deemed more effective than in–kind donations. Decision makers and relief workers lack experience with disaster management because of frequent turnover in their jobs.

The challenge in risk reduction is to sustain public support and political initiative in periods of calm. Preparedness and predisaster capacity building can best be achieved by local commitment of resources on a long–term and institutionalized basis. More data need to be developed for proper economic valuation and identification of best practices.