Although 2005 will be remembered for a number of catastrophic disasters—Hurricane Katrina in the United States, the aftermath of the tsunami and the earthquake in south Asia—other destructive events also occurred in Latin America and Caribbean. The year began with devastating floods in Guyana which were followed by the most active hurricane season ever recorded in the Americas. Later in the year, Tropical Storm Stan battered El Salvador and Guatemala and the effects of this disaster still linger. All of these events have presented opportunities for increasing preparedness efforts in the Region and beyond.

This report touches upon a broad spectrum of activities carried out by the Pan American Health Organization’s Area on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief. The activities described are organized into four chapters (expected results). These results were pursued through various means, including capacity building and training, publications, collaboration and expert technical consultations, partnerships and more.

Disaster preparedness activities are our core business. Emphasis is focused on institutional strengthening—working with Ministries of Health to confront present and future challenges, such as preparing for the pandemic influenza, bioterrorism and biological, chemical and radiological accidents, as well as the continuation of disaster programs during times of political transition. Disaster preparedness has been enhanced through training events, such as the continuing LEADERS and Hospital Disaster Planning courses, as well as through the production of a wide body of technical and scientific publications. PAHO/PED also supports framework agreements to enhance collaboration among countries and key implementing agencies. These endeavors have strengthened not only preparedness but have increased awareness and response capacities at both the ministerial and local level.

PAHO’s contribution to disaster mitigation in the health sector has several areas of focus. Advocacy and awareness efforts, such as those targeting the “Safe Hospitals” initiative (based on a mandate from the Second World Conference on Disaster Reduction held in Kobe, Japan in early 2005), are key to building a critical mass of decision makers who will carry forth plans to ensure that these critical facilities remain functional in the aftermath of disasters. Individual countries are also the focus of disaster mitigation activities. Many countries have made progress toward reducing vulnerability. For example, at the close of 2005, Peru adopted national building code legislation, calling for standards in the construction and design of buildings, particularly hospitals.

Looking back, 2005 will be remembered as a year in which PAHO’s support to disaster response was as intense in other regions of the world as it was in the Americas. The sheer magnitude of the disasters in south Asia overwhelmed WHO’s response capacity and staff from PAHO/WHO helped in a number of ways, most notably by deploying a disaster manager to head up the health cluster in both Banda Aceh (tsunami) and Islamabad (earthquake). Non-PAHO disaster professionals from Member States were also deployed to south Asia, allowing this Region to become an exporter of technical cooperation and expertise. The Logistics Support System (LSS) was used for the first time in Pakistan, where it was set up early on. Many local professionals were trained to use the software and manage the system.

In support of disaster response, PAHO/WHO has created and/or strengthened a number of internal mechanisms, including a Headquarters Disaster Task Force, a special Task Force on Epidemic Alert and Response (EAR) to advise the Organization on preparedness, readiness and response activities to address the risk of an influenza pandemic and a regionwide Disaster Response Team. The ad hoc emergency operations center that was set up following Hurricane Katrina had a positive impact and the Organization is studying how to establish a full-time health and crisis management center.

PAHO’s many years of experience (more than 100 years) and extensive network of expert professionals are crucial assets in harnessing support for national health disaster programs. PED’s relationships and partnerships with both internal departments, such as the Department of Communicable Diseases, and external agencies, such as UNICEF, help advance shared goals. This collaboration not only facilitates a productive working environment, but also helps to spread information on disaster preparedness activities, such as preparedness for pandemic influenza, as well as to expand the base of available expert resources through such groups as the Regional Disaster Response Team.

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