|Earthquakes and People's Health (WHO - OMS, 1997, 296 p.)|
The International Symposium on Earthquakes and People's Health, held in Kobe from 27 to 30 January 1997, was an important event for three main reasons.
Firstly, the symposium commemorated the second anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake which struck the urban areas of Kobe, leaving 6300 people dead, 30 000 injured and 300 000 homeless. Distressing as they may be, statistics of human and material loss can never adequately express the extent of suffering and disruption caused by such disasters which call for the utmost sympathy and support.
The amount of casualties and damage caused by earthquakes worldwide has increased markedly over the last decades. Urbanization and modern technology have brought with them many benefits for our daily lives but they also increase specific risks for people's health and the environment. Such risks must be carefully assessed and taken into account by town planners as urbanization is expected to grow steadily. It is estimated that by the year 2000 half of the world's population will live in urban areas.
Secondly, this was already the second symposium held by the WHO Kobe Centre for Health Development during its first year of existence. I wish to acknowledge the generous support of the Hyogo-Kobe community to the Centre which made it possible to organize this symposium and express my gratitude to the Hyogo Prefecture, the City of Kobe and Kobe Steel Ltd. As a result of the symposium, the WHO Centre itself is now better equipped to enhance its research and cooperation activities in support of health development both locally and worldwide.
Thirdly, the symposium attracted 190 participants from 21 countries, five international organizations and a large variety of disciplines. Representation was truly intersectoral and useful proposals were made for tackling not only the health consequences of earthquakes but also issues related to vulnerability reduction. These include recommendations for improved structural standards, organization and logistics. The importance of community participation was stressed to enable rapid and effective emergency response, particularly in the first hours after an earthquake. This requires careful planning, management and training, far ahead of time. Coordination must be ensured, between central and local governments as well as with the local people and volunteers. Similarly, the long-term harm done by disasters can be overcome more quickly if rehabilitation activities are well coordinated and involve consultation and participation of the local communities.
Guidelines on the rapid assessment of health needs in cases of emergency, and on community preparedness, are being prepared by WHO in close cooperation with UNHCR, UNICEF, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Médecins Sans Frontières.
The International Symposium on Earthquakes and People's Health, held by the WHO Kobe Centre for Health Development, has made an important contribution to WHOs overall activities in the areas of standard-setting, technical cooperation and public information, which are all essential parts of its Constitutional mandate.
Hiroshi Nakajima, M.D., Ph.D.