Humanitarian Health Action

Safe drinking water a priority

Daily briefing
5 January 2005

The immediate priority for the health of the displaced populations in the aftermath of the Southeast Asia earthquake and tsunami remains access to adequate supplies of safe drinking water. Additionally, pressing needs are sanitation and hygiene, shelter and access to basic medical supplies. With between three and five million people estimated to be possibly without access to such basic needs, disease outbreaks could lead to a significant increase in casualties. Already, a number of countries are reporting an increase in isolated cases of diarrhoeal diseases.

WHO continues to focus both on the health needs of the survivors and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of health systems. Guiding the public health relief effort in coordination with national and local authorities, communities, other UN organizations, NGOs and donors, WHO is concentrating on five key areas:

  • Disease surveillance: teams of experts have been deployed through the WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), reviewing the epidemiological situation on a daily basis. Identifying potential disease outbreaks as rapidly as possibly is key, in order to effectively respond.
  • Increasing access to essential health care: assessing the damage to the infrastructure and the needs of the populations, WHO is working closely with ministries of health of the affected countries to rebuild infrastructure as quickly as possible.
  • Technical public health guidance: to ensure essential public health needs are met, WHO is offering technical expertise on issues ranging from disposal of dead bodies, responses to disease outbreaks, maintaining water quality, dealing with excreta, sewage and chemical threats, managing chronic diseases, implementing vaccination programmes and addressing the mental health issues populations may face following this catastrophe.
  • Strengthening supply systems: ensuring supply of medicines, equipment, transport, vaccines and other vital assets.
  • Coordination of international health response: to ensure the right aid reaches the right people at the right time, WHO is guiding the international public health relief effort, to ensure the most efficient outcomes.

WHO Director-General Dr LEE, Jong-wook, is continuing his mission to the affected region today, visiting Aceh, Indonesia, to assess the extent of the devastation and more effectively plan WHO's response to the local populations.

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