|International Health Relief Assistance - A Guide for Effective Aid (PAHO, 1990, 14 p.)|
The United Nations has designated the 1990's as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction-a decade in which the international community will pay special attention to fostering cooperation to reduce the loss of life, property damage and social and economic disruption caused by disasters.
Latin America and the Caribbean are vulnerable to a wide variety of natural and manmade disasters. In 1985, catastrophic earthquakes struck Chile and Mexico, killing more than 10,000 people. The eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia left 23,000 dead. Recently Hurricanes Gilbert, Joan and Hugo not only took lives but dealt a severe blow to the infrastructure of many Caribbean islands, the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, Nicaragua and the southern United States.
Thanks to modern communications, word of these tragedies reached the international community within minutes, and in some cases in just hours, relief was on its way. This generous outpouring of aid can greatly help a disaster-stricken country if it meets real needs. But it can just as quickly become a burden if it has not been requested or reflects mistaken perceptions of what the real needs are.
The countries of the Americas have a relatively high level of health disaster preparedness and a sophisticated health infrastructure. This enables them to deal with the immediate medical needs in the aftermath of a disaster.
However, once a disaster strikes, the high cost of relief operations may drain, in a matter of days, the resources normally allotted for a one-year period for primary health care and development programs. This, added to the fact that many countries in this Region have seen their standard of living and level of developmental growth decline dramatically in the last ten years, further reduces their capacity to restore normal services and recover from natural disasters.