COPING WITH NATURAL DISASTERS: THE ROLE OF LOCAL HEALTH PERSONNEL AND THE COMMUNITY
( By A Working Guide (WHO - OMS, 1989) )

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Chapter 3.Post-disaster development

Structural damage (to houses, public buildings, factories, warehouses, etc.) and damage to crops and livestock raising, together with the interruption of production and commercial activities, cause serious economic difficulties for the disaster-stricken community. Some countries in case of disaster pass special laws covering the areas involved, which provide not only for financial assistance but also for measures essential to a return to normal economic and social life: reconstruction, repair of housing, development plans, measures of protection and temporary concessions for the stricken populations.

However, care must be taken to avoid certain dangers. Often it is necessary to make sure that administrative red tape does not hinder the real availability of the sums set aside for the local communities. Administrative and control procedures must be devised for the emergency situation that do not hamper activities in the field.

Sometimes the financial resources made available to meet the emergency may give rise to speculation or illegal activities (exorbitant prices, corruption, organized crime). This is at once a political problem and one of public order and it is essential to be ready to bring it under control with the utmost severity, firstly because such phenomena delay, hinder and besmirch economic recovery during a precarious and difficult phase and secondly because they dishearten people, deprive public action of all credibility and create conditions for serious distintegration and degradation in the community.


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Care must be taken to avoid the launching of inappropriate economic activities that create disruption and imbalance in relation to local resources and potentialities. Sometimes, pressure from certain firms or commercial groups, attracted by the prospect of making profits, may influence the public authorities or private persons by urging them to undertake activities and make choices that are not in line with the priority needs of the disaster area. Occasionally, the allocation of subsidies or special individual or family allowances ends by the population sinking into a state of dependence. Any such phenomenon created by gifts inappropriate in quality and quantity must be avoided. If these dangers are not forestalled, the development of the area may be seriously hindered or completely blocked.

The resources committed to renewed development should be used above all for:


the launching and sustaining of local productive and commercial activities based on the utilization and exploitation of the resources that exist in the area (schemes must be avoided whose success depends mainly on supplies, machines or spare parts coming from abroad),

occupational training based on the above-mentioned economic activities and the creation of jobs in line with local realities,

the establishment of infrastructures and services essential to the community,

the improvement of transport and communications in and for the disaster area.


Experience of disasters shows that recovery is made easier by the active participation of the different sections of the community in preparing and carrying out reconstruction and development plans.

The local health personnel can make an important contribution to development through what they do in the community and by integrating health activities in activities designed to improve the quality of life.

As far as the health services are concerned, the main danger is restoring the situation to what it was before the disaster without subjecting the functioning of the preexisting structures to critical analysis. This danger may be aggravated by offers from donor countries to build hospitals, establishments for the handicapped or other institutions without their proposals being based on a correct evaluation of requirements and the most appropriate solutions. It is very important that the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase should make it possible to go beyond the limitations of the health services revealed by the disaster. A disaster is all the more serious in a country in which the existing resources and services are not sufficient to meet requirements in normal times. It provides an opportunity that should not be missed to give priority to policies of establishing and organizing health services in line with the objectives, structures and methods of work of primary health care.

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