|Disasters Preparedness and Mitigation - Issue No. 75 - January, 1999 (PAHO)|
PAHO's Central American Disaster Office Strengthened
Dr. Rocio Saenz has joined the PAHO/WHO staff as a disaster
preparedness officer for Central America. Dr. Saenz can be reached at phone:
(506) 257-2141; fax (506) 257-2139; e-mail: rsaen@ netsalud.sa.cr. To contact
PAHO's disaster advisers through-out the Americas see our web site:
http://www.paho. org/english/ped/pedhome.htm (click on How to Contact Us)
or consult the previous issue of this newsletter.
Central American Presidents Meet to Discuss Mitch
On 9 November, Central American presidents met in Comalapa, El Salvador to analyze, discuss, and adopt joint solutions to the situation in Central America after Hurricane Mitch.
The XX Summit of Presidents of Central America was suspended because of the hurricane, but its agenda had included a discussion of the subregion's vulnerability to natural disasters. During the November meeting, the presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala resolved to:
· instruct sectoral cabinets to deal, in a concerted manner, with health, agriculture, environment, and infrastructure problems caused by Mitch.
· instruct national authorities to continue dealing with the effects of the disaster in the wake of the postponement of the Summit.
· promote the need to develop mechanisms for natural disaster prevention and mitigation with full community participation.
For a copy of the statement issued by the Presidents at this meeting (Spanish only), contact the General Secretariat of the Central American Integration System (SICA) at e-mail: email@example.com or fax (503) 289-6124.
Another Step toward a Global Disaster Network
Information centers and organizations from 17 countries in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe participated in the International Meeting of Disaster Documentation Centers in November, 1998 in Costa Rica, organized by PAHO/WHO in collaboration with the IDNDR and CRID.
Information specialists and disaster experts analyzed the possibilities of regional and global collaboration to increase the dissemination of technical information on disasters and emergencies and make it available to users. The meeting produced important conclusions on the need to form a global network of documentation centers, strengthen existing centers and the use and development of technical information products for disseminating information on the Internet and CDROM.
The conclusions of this meeting are available at http://www.paho.org/spanish/ped/pedhome.htm (click on "Important Meetings") or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
ECLAC Mission Assesses Socioeconomic Impact of Hurricane Mitch
Due to Hurricane Mitch's formidable impact on the majority of Central America, ECLAC organized two missions to evaluate the socioeconomic effects of this in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
The information for the most part, came from national agencies, as well as from collaboration with regional and international institutions such as UNDP, PAHO/WHO and SICA.
PAHO/WHO worked closely with ECLAC's missions to collect data from and prepare rehabilitation/reconstruction projects for the health sector.
For more information on the results of these evaluations contact: Ricardo Zapata Marti of ECLAC at fax: (525) 531-1115; e-mail: email@example.com.
Stress Management Now a Part of Disaster Training
At present, none of the English-speaking or French-speaking Caribbean countries has an established network to deal with stress after disasters. And so, a regional team has been established to adapt the material from a BVI workshop on Critical Incident Stress Management for the Caribbean. The team has completed an outline for a short session, which will be included as part of the PAHO course on Medical Management of Disasters (MMD). It is also developing the course material for a two-day session. The course is now known as Stress Management in Disasters (SMID) and targets primarily emergency response workers.
Input from these sessions will be used to develop an adapted model for the Caribbean. A draft document will be available in the near future. For further information on SMID please contact PAHO's Disaster Preparedness Program in Barbados, fax: (246) 436-6447 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite the devastating blow that Hurricane Georges dealt to the Caribbean, in some ways it was overshadowed one month later by the international coverage that focused on Hurricane Mitch. Nonetheless, Georges seriously affected the health sector of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and several countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, particularly Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Kitts and Nevis. The information that follows was excerpted from national reports prepared in the wake of Hurricane Georges. See page 1 for information on how to obtain the complete report.
Hurricane Georges was catastrophic in the Dominican Republic, with winds reaching 120 plus miles per hour and intense and prolonged rainfall that caused rivers and dams to overflow. Two hundred eighty-three people died and ECLAC estimated damages to all sectors to reach US$2 billion.
Although in the predisaster phase emergency plans and prevention measures could have been implemented sooner, once the hurricane struck, the Ministry of Public Health, together with other national agencies and international organizations, assumed leadership in mitigating the health effects and preventing outbreaks of diseases.
The health sector's postdisaster response activities were less affected by the actual impact of the hurricane than by the difficulties imposed by a lack of drinking water, the proliferation of disease-transmitting vectors, flooding, problems with drainage and collection of solid waste, food handling and overcrowding in temporary shelters.
The mountains that separate the Dominican Republic from Haiti on the island of Hispaniola helped to diminish wind velocity as Georges entered Haiti on 23 September. But the hurricane, with its heavy and prolonged rains, caused serious damages in this country already suffering from a fragile economy and social infrastructure.
The most affected sectors were environmental health and drinking water, vector control and the epidemiological surveillance system. The cost of rehabilitation in the first two sectors was estimated at US$414.5 million; in the latter at US$515 million.
While the hurricane itself did not destroy any hospitals, in many cases pre-hurricane conditions in these facilities had left them vulnerable to the heavy rains and flooding. However, the hurricane may have provided the window of opportunity needed to continue the national policy of strengthening and rehabilitating the physical health infrastructure, a program that was already underway prior to the disaster. The hurricane also worsened existing problems in the water and sanitation sector and this placed the population at grave risk.
To protect costly investments, repairs to disaster-damaged health facilities must include mitigation measures. Had this been done earlier, the roof of the JN France Hospital might have survived Georges. - Photo: PAHO/WHO, A. Waak
St. Kitts and Nevis
The JN France Hospital is the only secondary-care health facility in St. Kitts and Nevis and since opening in 1966, has suffered significant hurricane damage on ten separate occasions. The recent severe damage to several of the hospital's roofs was caused by water that entered from the roof, rather from the windows as had been expected and which had been boarded up before the storm. Having previously been devastated by Hurricane Luis in 1995, the roof of the JN France was, once again, destroyed.
Total health sector damage was estimated at US$4.5 million; lesser damages occurred to smaller health clinics and on the island of Nevis.
Thanks to funding from multilateral and bilateral donors, PAHO is focusing rehabilitation efforts on the maternity, pediatric and medical wards, and on the laboratory and eye clinic of the JN France. All external walls and several of the internal walls will be strengthened to become earthquake-resistant, and roofs will be completely replaced.
The vulnerability to disasters of the rehabilitated JN France Hospital is expected to be sufficiently low so that evacuation during hurricane warnings need not be necessary and the facility can function immediately following future hurricanes and earthquakes.
Although Hurricane Luis left more widespread damage in 1995, Hurricane Georges did cause a major disruption of services in the Holberton Hospital (loss of power and the main water supply).
Many wards in the Holberton Hospital needed to be repaired
following Luis, and those which had incorporated disaster mitigation measures
into the rehabilitation efforts did not again fall victim to Georges. There was
much less damage to other health centers and clinics, and island-wide, most
operations were back to normal within one