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close this bookEarthquakes and People's Health (WHO - OMS, 1997, 296 p.)
close this folderOpening Addresses
View the documentA. Wojtczak, Director, WHO Centre for Health Development
View the documentH. Nakajima, Director-General, World Health Organization
View the documentS.T. Han, Regional Director, WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific
View the documentT. Kaihara, Governor, Hyogo Prefecture
View the documentK. Sasayama, Mayor, Kobe City
View the documentJ. Koizumi, Minister of Health and Welfare, Japan

S.T. Han, Regional Director, WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific

It is a great pleasure for me to join the Director-General, Dr Nakajima, in congratulating the WHO Centre for Health Development for organizing this important symposium. I also wish to add my personal thanks and my endorsement for this important initiative.

History has shown that humanity is indeed extremely vulnerable to earthquakes, cyclones, epidemics, famine, floods and other such natural disasters. A large number of countries of the Western Pacific Region are part of the ring of fire of the Pacific and are particularly vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions- We are currently acutely aware of this as we continue to see the suffering from the 1991 volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines and of course from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in Japan. These were two of the largest natural disasters to affect our planet in recent years.

On the more positive side, recent history has also shown us that the impact of disasters can often be significantly mitigated by careful planning and preparedness and through efficient coordination of relief efforts.

We are fortunate in this Region that the international community is most generous in providing emergency relief in the form of supplies, helpers, financial aid and valuable experience. Post-disaster action is normally expensive and inefficient when compared to a sustained effort of prevention and mitigation. The Mount Pinatubo eruption and the Kobe earthquake have clearly illustrated the devastating long-term impact of disasters. We also recognize that these two events were of an extremely major scale and cannot be taken as the norm.

The objective of the WHO programme on emergency and humanitarian action in the Western Pacific Region is to promote and strengthen disaster preparedness in the Member States and to provide a prompt response to emergencies and disasters in coordination with other organizations.

At this point, I should like to take the opportunity to publicly thank the Government of Japan for the generous contribution which has enabled us to further this objective. With their support we have been able to develop activities at country level and employ a full-time emergency coordinator.

The experience from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake demonstrated what concerted and planned action by the government, communities and individuals is able to achieve. From this experience we can learn lessons for other parts of the Region and other parts of the world.

In order to address the problem, there are a few simple things that we need to focus on. We need to increase the level of awareness within all sectors of government, within the health authorities, and among the public of the need for emergency preparedness and planning with a special emphasis at the community level. We need to see emergency preparedness integrated with overall national development plans, which are so important in the early post-disaster phase and which should have adequate resources and be well coordinated with all sectors. Finally, I wish to propose that regionally and globally we should look for more effective ways to support the training and research that is needed in this important area.

This latter goal touches directly upon the purpose of this meeting and this is why I am very enthusiastic about the potential of this initiative. The topics being addressed regarding the latest information on the epidemiology of disasters, on planning, logistics, rescue and medical care are all valuable contributions. I am very encouraged by the opportunity for all of us to further share our experiences and ideas as lessons for the future.

Finally, I wish to emphasize my desire to work closely with the WHO Centre in Kobe to support our regional emergency and humanitarian action programme. I trust that in the near future our staff will have the opportunity to work with you on developing specific forms of joint collaboration. I believe that this collaboration will have a significant benefit for the people of the Region not only in emergency preparedness but also in other areas of development where we share common goals and vision.

Again I wish to thank the WHO Centre for Health Development for this excellent initiative.