WHO and UNICEF call for strengthened risk reduction measures to protect hospitals and schools from the impact of disasters
GENEVA, 18 June, 2009 – The World Health Organization and UNICEF called on governments to strengthen risk reduction measures in four key areas so that health and education systems are able to cope with disasters, including the risks from climate change. These are:
WHO and UNICEF highlighted these issues during the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, a key gathering of the world's risk reduction community organized by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) in Geneva from 16-19 June 2009.
Disasters have a major health, educational, economic, physical, and psychosocial impact on the most vulnerable, notably children, women and aged persons. Besides destroying human lives, disasters damage hospital and school infrastructures, disrupt educational cycles, exacerbate poverty, force children to drop out of school, and affect the resilience of communities.
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which caused some 240,000 deaths in ten Asian and African countries, raised global awareness about the importance of disaster risk reduction and emergency preparedness.
The massive earthquake that struck China’s Sichuan Province in 2008 left 88,000 people dead or missing 400,000 injured, and 11,000 hospitals damaged or destroyed. Over 12,000 schools or 40 per cent of all schools in Sichuan were damaged, resulting in thousands of children being killed or injured. These events highlight growing concern over the effects of disasters on education and health.
Children are among the most at risk and an estimated 175 million children annually will be affected by disasters. In recent years, large numbers of schools have been destroyed by disasters resulting in the loss of lives of children and the stalling of access to education. Children also suffer from the psychosocial effects of disasters, hindering their opportunities for development.
A High Level Panel on Safe Schools and Hospitals, jointly organized by UNISDR, UNICEF, UNESCO, WHO and World Bank during the Global Platform consultation, covered the experience of France, Mexico, Philippines and Tajikistan in making hospitals and schools safer from disasters and emphasized the vital role that scientific evidence plays.
Mexico has demonstrated that it is possible to make hospitals safer by applying a Hospital Safety Index to hundreds of hospitals across the country and strengthened them to be more resilient and better prepared to respond to emergencies and disasters.
Risk reduction is an imperative for education as well as health.
UNICEF and WHO are active members of the UNISDR system and advocate globally for the protection of schools and hospitals from disasters. The current and previous biennial World Disaster Reduction campaigns organized by UNISDR have been devoted to "Disaster risk reduction begins at schools" (2006-2007) and "Hospitals Safe from Disasters" (2008-2009). WHO is also devoting its 2009 World Health Day to the theme "Save lives. Make hospitals safe in emergencies."