With Natural Disasters on the Rise, MSH Helps Communities and Governments Protect Health

With Natural Disasters on the Rise, MSH Helps Communities and Governments Protect Health

A hurricane superstorm slams the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of the United States, flooding Manhattan’s subway system, leaving lower Manhattan and Brooklyn without electricity for days and destroying much of Staten Island. The storm kills hundreds of people, destroys thousands of homes, and causes over $65 billion in damage. Prior to October 2012, this scenario read like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster. But now we know these were the very real effects of hurricane Sandy.

Fire, drought, floods, wide-spread outbreaks of once-rare diseases: it seems another natural disaster is reported during every episode of the evening news. But are we really experiencing more violent weather, disease, and catastrophe than previous generations? Or have we become hyper-aware of these violent glitches in our ecosystem thanks to the 24-hour news networks’ propensity to create erupting volcanoes out of mole hills?

The answer is surprising to the skeptics among us—the world is truly becoming a more dangerous place. According to statistics gathered by the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (PDF), the total number of natural disasters—including hydrometeorological (floods, wind storms, slides, and drought), geological (earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes), and biological (epidemics and insect infestations)—increased four-fold between the beginning of the last century (1900-1909) and the 1950s. Even more startling—in the first six years of the new millennium (2000-2005) alone, the world has experienced nearly ten times the number of natural disasters than during the entire decade between 1950 and 1959.

The largest jumps were seen in hydrometeorological events (from 232 in the 1950s to 2,135 between 2000 and 2005) and in biological disasters, which jumped from just 2 in the 1950s to 420 between 2000 and 2005.

The root causes of these disasters are complex and most likely stem from the climate changes challenging our planet, but there is no doubt that the climate and meteorological catastrophes are helping to create environments ripe for severe biological disasters, such as pandemics. Whether or not the global community will be able to reverse this trend or at least slow the rate of change remains to be seen. For now we must assume that the storms, droughts, and epidemics will continue at the same rate and perhaps even increase in severity.

With this knowledge, governments must prepare for worst-case scenarios that once seemed improbable, but now may be almost inevitable. Management Sciences for Health works with countries to strengthen their health systems, which increases their ability to not just deal with their citizens’ day-to-day healthcare needs, but inevitably improves their capacity to cope with outbreaks of disease and wide-spread injuries caused by catastrophic events.

More specific to natural disaster response, MSH helps governments and communities plan for and improve their disaster management, risk communication, and coordination capabilities to mitigate the impact of large scale disasters.

Community and Government Preparation for Pandemics and Other Disasters: The MSH Approach outlines MSH’s philosophy regarding disaster preparedness, our experience in avian and pandemic influenza response, and the contents of a disaster preparedness tool kit targeted to municipal leaders and their management teams.

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