Bangkok: The World Health Organisation (WHO) Wednesday called on countries for greater investment in strengthening the resilience of communities to save lives during disasters and emergencies.
At a regional meeting on disaster risk management here, the UN health agency applauded the efforts of community-based voluntary organisations and community health volunteers.
"Communities have largely been the source of innovative ideas on how to better manage health risks during disasters and emergencies. Countries have also strengthened their national disaster management authorities and coordination of preparedness efforts with various sectors, including NGOs and the private sector, has improved tremendously in the recent years," said Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO regional director for Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asian countries, including India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh among others, accounted for 46 percent of the total global deaths due to all disasters in the last decade. The region has witnessed disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake, Cyclones Sidr in Bangladesh and Nargis in Myanmar, and floods in Bangladesh and Thailand.
The health agency lists the 2004 tsunami as the turning point in disaster risk management in the region.
"The countries built their capacity from the lessons learnt from the tsunami. This was clearly demonstrated by the 8.7 magnitude earthquake that hit the coast of Aceh in Indonesia on 11 April, 2012," the WHO said in a statement.
"The earthquake lasted over four minutes and tremors were felt in India, Thailand, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. In contrast to the 2004 tsunami, people were evacuated to higher-ground levels, saving hundreds of lives," the statement added.
The meeting, attended by health experts from member nations, NGOs, UN agencies and national disaster management agencies, will discuss issues such as community resilience, information, and strengthening integration of disaster risk management in the health sector.
Health experts will take stock of current capacities as measured using a benchmark system developed by WHO`s Regional Office for Southeast Asia. The participants will also discuss the strategic directions to take forward in the coming years, and ways to bring knowledge and practice to the communities.
Noting the improvements in many areas, the WHO also stated that disaster risk management needed to be better integrated in the health sector.
"WHO is highlighting the need for awareness to ensure the safety of critical health infrastructure such as hospitals, research on health interventions for response to disasters, innovative community resilience approaches and a more strategic approach to capacity development," the statement added.