WHO providing emergency fund during disasters

April 15th, 2008 - 8:24 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, April 15 (IANS) Countries lashed by tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and other natural disasters in the Southeast Asian region will be provided funds within 24 hours by the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO’s health emergency fund has $1 million as seed money with one percent contributions from 11 Southeast Asian countries, WHO Deputy Regional Director Poonam Khetrapal Singh said Tuesday.

Though the fund was established at the 25th health ministers’ meeting in Bhutan in September last year, none of the member countries had tapped into the fund so far, she said at the regional launch of the World Disaster Reduction Campaign on Hospitals Safe from Disasters.

Singh said about $150,000 would be given to any country asking for aid within 24 hours of a disaster. Another $150,000 would be given later. WHO would also work with member countries to ensure that their hospitals are disaster-resistant and able to function after a calamity strikes.

She said the fund would be used for emergencies, including man-made ones, and be given on three conditions - if the country declares an emergency, makes an official request for external assistance or appoints a UN humanitarian coordinator for that particular emergency.

The fund will provide financial support for the first three months after an emergency.

Apart from India, the other countries that can utilise the fund are Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and East Timor.

A global campaign was launched on World Disaster Reduction Campaign in Davos, Switzerland, in January. Singh said WHO, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the World Bank have come together to launch the campaign.

WHO is spearheading the campaign in the Southeast Asian region and will work towards promoting disaster resilient health facilities in its 11 member countries.

Singh said: “Hospitals need to conduct risk assessment and vulnerability tests of not only their area but also the areas they serve. Apart from a safe hospital, we need to have human resources to tackle the surge of patients who would be impacted by the disaster.

“For nurses, doctors, surgeons and health workers to be able to give their best to people when disaster strikes, it is essential to have a health system and facilities that can withstand disasters,” she added.

In this region, hundreds of hospitals and health facilities are damaged every year by natural disasters such as earthquakes, storms and floods. Millions of people are left without access to health facilities during and after disasters, she said.

Singh said they are working with countries to ensure that hospitals are disaster resilient and that the health workforce continues to provide care even amid a disaster.

“Functional collapse, not structural damage, is the usual reason for hospitals being put out of service during emergencies,” she said.

She said making new hospitals and health facilities safe from disasters is not costly.

“Incorporating mitigation measures into the design and construction of a new hospital is estimated to account for less than four percent of the total initial investment. Creating safe hospitals is as much about having vision and commitment as it is about actual resources,” she added.

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