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Public Health and Disasters

The World Disasters Report 2000: Focus on Public Health was prepared by the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies. This report summarizes statistics and global trends on the impact of disasters, including economic damage, numbers of IDPs and refugees, and the efforts to prevent excess of deaths. In 1999, it notes, more people died, 34,000, from flood disasters than any other natural disaster.

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“Natural and technological disasters between 1990 and 1999 affected on average 196.000 people annually, and the last year alone killed 80,000 people.” This year’s report observes that most excess death, by far, occurs due to preventable health conditions such as diarrhea, acute respiratory infection, malnutrition and malaria, and not from drowning, being crushed or other physical injury.


“In 1999, 1000,000 people were killed by natural disasters, but around 13.000 died of infectious diseases.” The report examines how cutbacks in spending on health care and how recent trends in drug-resistance among pathogens have led to a worldwide disaster of preventable deaths from common diseases, where poverty and political isolation are the prime risk factors.


The Red Cross now promotes community-based care, for example through training of mobile health volunteers who can spread prevention strategies against diseases like diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, measles and AIDS through initiatives such as “ARCHI 2010” — The African Red Cross/Red Crescent Health Initiative of health volunteer networks.


Another chapter articulates the need for a new “international disaster-response law” (IDL), observing that “there is (now) no definitive, broadly accepted source of international law which spells out legal standards, procedures, rights and duties pertaining to disaster response and assistance.”


Question–Do you believe that there is not enough emphasis on the public health impact of disasters in the planning for disaster and emergency management in the United States? Please provide an appropriate justification for your response in light of the Red Cross Report mentioned above in approx. 250 words and any references.

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