United Nations officials are marking the International Day for Disaster Reduction with a call to invest more to make hospitals safe in the event of natural hazards such as earthquakes and cyclones, stressing that doing so not only saves lives but is highly cost-effective.
Hospital safety is the theme of this year’s Day, which falls on the third anniversary of the earthquake in South Asia – a disaster which destroyed 73 per cent of the health facilities in the affected area of Pakistan.
The observance also takes on particular significance in a year that has seen its fair share of natural disasters, ranging from Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the Wenchuan earthquake in China to a series of deadly storms in the Caribbean.
In his message for the Day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that when health facilities are damaged, so, too, is the ability to improve maternal and child health and to provide other essential health services.
“But in resilient communities, health systems are better able to withstand natural hazards,” he stated. “We need to mobilize society at every level to reduce risk and protect health facilities so that they can save lives.”
He added that, now more than ever, when the world is trying to accelerate national and international efforts to achieve the global anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), disaster risk reduction needs to be acknowledged and incorporated as a key plank of that work.
“We must build health centres and systems to withstand natural hazards and major emergencies,” said Margaret Chan, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO). “If we don’t, lives will be lost needlessly – both when hazards strike and in their aftermath.”
Sàlvano Briceño, the head of the Secretariat of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) added that vulnerable health facilities are a major drain on national finances. “The immediate cost of disaster damage to health systems can deal serious blows to national budgets – but only a 4 per cent initial investment in disaster protection can make most health facilities safe.”
In the area of Myanmar affected by Cyclone Nargis, 57 per cent of all health facilities suffered damage and one in five was completely destroyed. During China’s Wenchuan earthquake, 11,028 medical institutions were damaged – repairing them and completely rebuilding 169 hospitals is part of an overall $150 billion recovery budget.
“Making hospitals safe from disasters is highly cost-effective,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes underscored yesterday at a news conference, adding that this requires a joint effort from all actors in society.
“If we’re going to achieve this goal of safer hospitals, everybody needs to act, we need action from governments, we need action from the United Nations, from international agencies, from regional agencies, from NGOs (non-governmental organizations), health institutions, donor community, financial institutions, and also professional associations.”
Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be inviting government representatives in New York today to hear from countries that suffered major disasters.
Meanwhile in Bangkok, ISDR and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are marking the Day with a discussion on hospital and school safety. In addition, ASEAN is awarding a prize to three winners of a regional competition, which invited children from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam draw or paint a disaster resilient hospital, school or house which could contribute to make their communities better protected against disasters.