Humanitarian Health Action

Editorial

Monthly Highlights - December 2010

Two Somali girls carrying water jerrycans
WHO

2010 was marked by two major emergencies: the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan. The year had hardly begun when a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, killing an estimated 220 000 people and rendering millions homeless.

The earthquake seriously crippled the health infrastructure, not only hampering the delivery of immediate life-saving assistance to the wounded, but also preventing the resumption of routine health care to the population. As the country was still struggling to recover from the earthquake, an outbreak of cholera was confirmed in October. As of December, Haiti remains at the forefront of humanitarian concerns as cholera has already spread across the entire country.

The second major emergency that struck in 2010 was the flooding in Pakistan from July on, which affected one fifth of the country and more than 20 million people. As of December, hundreds of thousands are still living in temporary conditions, their homes and livelihood lost.

Both events highlighted the magnitude of vulnerability and underscored the importance strategies related to Making hospitals safe in emergencies and Urbanization and health - two messages delivered by World Health Day 2009 and 2010. The first one highlighted the importance of having health facilities resilient to disasters and able to support their communities when most needed and the second recalled the importance of healthy cities.

Before these crises, the populations were already vulnerable due to weak health infrastructure, inadequate water and sanitation facilities and poverty (up to 86% of the population in Port-au-Prince was living in slums which were levelled by the earthquake). These disasters resulted in people being further susceptible to malnutrition, communicable diseases, chronic disease, psychosocial disorders, etc.

The lives and health of other communities have also been at acute risk: millions of people continued to suffer as a result of protracted crises such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Somalia and Southern Sudan and the sudden-onset crises in Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, to name but a few.

In the response to each of these situations, WHO, as Health Cluster lead, helped governments coordinate the response and, as convener of the international humanitarian partners on the ground, developed sectoral strategies and integrated response plans and sent technical resources and supplies to fill gaps and save lives.

Generous funding for health programmes has been received throughout 2010 (the amount of US$ 170.7 million has been channelled through Health Action in Crises in headquarters) but more is needed to respond to the many crises worldwide and to meet the health needs of affected populations.

This month’s Highlights first examines four of these emergencies and the interventions implemented to meet the health needs of the population: Haiti, Pakistan, Somalia and Southern Sudan. The Highlights also present the health component of the new post-disaster assessment guidance being developed by United Nations agencies, the World Bank and the European Commission. It then gives an update on the funding received through headquarters in 2010, and the various meeting held this past month to foster better funding for humanitarian emergencies and better coordination among partners, including an update on the high level conference on the Central Emergency Response Fund.

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