|Disasters Preparedness and Mitigation - Issue No. 40 - October, 1989 (PAHO)|
The vulnerability of Latin America and the Caribbean to disasters increases each day as the population spirals and human settlements spring up in high-risk areas. This vulnerability was readily apparent after the earthquakes in Mexico, El Salvador, and Ecuador; mudslides caused by a volcanic eruption in Colombia; floods in many countries; and the hurricanes of 1988 and 19X9 in the Caribbean, Central America and parts of Mexico.
In the last decade, considerable progress has been made in reducing this vulnerability. The number of countries with established emergency preparedness programs and active health sector disaster plans increased from four to 21. Progress has been particularly noticeable in larger countries which can dedicate the minimum financial and human resources required.
In most countries the health sector is generally well-prepared to face sudden-impact natural disasters. The threat of technological disasters, which may become just as significant, is another matter. Although Latin America and the Caribbean have been spared tragedies of the magnitude of Bhopal or Chernobyl, the potential for this type of catastrophe is ever present and the health sector will play a key role in the immediate and delayed response.
The response to chemical and other technological emergencies is a multi-sector task. Many countries now acknowledge the risk and have begun to develop their preparedness plans. In the coming years, PAHO will also gear its technical cooperation to the specific problems associated with this type of disaster. As a specialized health agency, PAHO provides technical cooperation to the entire health sector of member countries, through the Ministry of Health. The health sector must be prepared to take their active place in the overall country effort to face this growing threat.