Tsunamis: Health effects and WHO action

Geneva, Switzerland
30 December 2004

The earthquake and subsequent tsunamis originating in Asia have killed and injured tens of thousands of people and left millions homeless in coastal areas of Asia. This serious natural disaster will affect the region for decades. WHO estimates that between three to five million people are already affected.

Although the major impact was felt by India, Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, several other countries in Asia and Africa have been affected; Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand in Asia, and Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania in Africa.

WHO Operations Centres in Geneva and New Delhi are coordinating the assessments and response to the crisis. Four days after the tsunamis struck the coasts of these countries, we now have a clearer picture of the extent of the devastation and human suffering and the immediate action required.

In response to requests for assistance, WHO has already supplied Emergency Health Kits to the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Indonesia and has dispatched teams of experts to assist these countries in assessing the health needs of affected populations, ensuring adequate supplies of safe drinking water, maintaining disease surveillance, and coordinating aid assistance. This support is being provided in close coordination with other relief agencies, through the UN Disaster Assistance Coordination teams in each country.

The health needs of the populations affected are immediate and substantial. At least 300 000 people have been injured and are in urgent need of medical care. Drinking water is in very short supply in some areas, due to contamination by salt water. The risk of disease has increased substantially, with diarrhoeal diseases, respiratory infections, malaria and dengue fever being particular threats.

I am profoundly shocked by the scale of this tragedy and have already released US$ 1 million to assist in the relief effort. Based on a preliminary assessment, WHO needs at least US$ 40 million for immediate relief efforts to help local and national authorities respond to the human crisis and enable survivors to stay alive and to ensure that health services are re-established as soon as possible.

I would like to pay a special tribute to those already working around the clock in these countries to provide care and support for the injured and others affected by this disaster. The immediate needs are enormous, as are the longer-term tasks such as rebuilding damaged infrastructure, and providing psychological support to the individuals and communities traumatised by this tragic event.