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close this bookHumanitarian Assistance in Disaster Situations:A Guide for Effective Aid (Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) / OrganizaciĆ³n Panamericana de la Salud (OPS), 1999, 20 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
Open this folder and view contentsInternational Health Relief Assistance: Benefit or Burden?
View the documentPrinciples of Humanitarian Assistance
View the documentObtaining International Disaster Relief
View the documentAfter a Disaster Occurs, Do...
View the documentDiscourage Sending...
View the documentConsult Further About Donations of...
View the documentMyths and Realities of Natural Disasters
View the documentEffects of Natural Disasters on Health
View the documentAnnex 1: SUMA
View the documentAnnex 2: Pan American Health Organization. Disaster Contacts
View the documentBack Cover

Myths and Realities of Natural Disasters

Many mistaken assumptions are associated with the impact of disasters on public health. Those in the donor community as well as those in disaster-prone countries should be familiar with the following "myths and realities":

Myth:

Foreign medical volunteers with any kind of medical background are needed.

Reality:

The local population almost always covers immediate lifesaving needs. Only medical personnel with skill that are not available in the affected country may be needed.

Myth:

Any kind of international assistance is needed, and it's needed now!

Reality:

A hasty response that is not based on an impartial evaluation only contributes to the chaos. It is better to wait until genuine needs have been assessed.

Myth:

Epidemics and plagues are inevitable after every disaster.

Reality:

Epidemics do not spontaneously occur after a disaster and dead bodies will not lead to catastrophic outbreaks of exotic diseases. The key to preventing disease is to improve sanitary conditions and educate the public.

Myth:

The affected population is too shocked and helpless to take responsibility for their own survival.

Reality:

On the contrary, many find new strength during an emergency, as evidenced by the thousands of volunteers who spontaneously united to sift through the rubble in search of victims after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.

Myth:

Disasters are random killers.

Reality:

Disasters strike hardest at the most vulnerable group, the poor - especially women, children and the elderly.

Myth:

Locating disaster victims in temporary settlements is the best alternative.

Reality:

It should be the last alternative. Many agencies use funds normally spent for tents to purchase building materials, tools, and other construction-related support in the affected country.

Myth:

Things are back to normal within a few weeks.

Reality:

The effects of a disaster last a long time. Disaster-affected countries deplete much of their financial and material resources in the immediate post-impact phase. Successful relief programs gear their operations to the fact that international interest wanes as needs and shortages become more pressing.


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PAHO/WHO