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Health action in crisis - annual report 2005

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The number of people affected by disasters continued to rise in 2005.The year began with the response to the South East Asia tsunami and finished with the response to the South Asia earthquake. Each year, one in five WHO Member States experiences a crisis that endangers the health of its people. Estimates indicate that more than 150 million people were directly affected by natural disasters.
Moreover, for each major emergency that is reported by the media and recorded in international databases, there are dozens of smaller-sized emergencies that strike local communities, affecting the development and the health of their populations with little or no external assistance to help in relief and recovery operations.

Investing in community capacity-building for emergency preparedness and response is the only sustainable answer to this situation.

Similarly, several complex emergencies fall quickly into the category of "forgotten crises" as soon as the media spotlight fades away. This translates into shortages of humanitarian funds to sustain vital relief and recovery operations.

Systems at local level that normally provide people with accessible food, water, shelter and sanitation, ensure personal security and protection from harm, and deliver health care, do not function, and national systems are unable to compensate.

Recovering from the disastrous effects of major and complex emergencies and crises takes much longer than perceived by the international community. Their impact on health services and on the health status of populations persists for years. A considerable proportion of countries affected by crises or in transition, lag far behind in attaining the Millennium Development Goals. In 16 of them, under-five mortality is reported to have increased in the past 10 years.

The year 2005 also witnessed important developments in expanding the work of WHO in emergencies and crises. These developments include the resolution passed by the 58th World Health Assembly (WHA), the implementation of the UN humanitarian reform, and the review of the experience and lessons learned in recent crises. In line with these developments and in order to address the growing challenges in this area of work, Health Action in Crises was reorganized in November 2005 around its three main pillars of work: emergency preparedness, emergency response and operations, and transition/ recovery programmes.

WHO's emergency work will focus during the coming years on the following:

- Providing technical assistance for the development of comprehensive, multi-sectoral emergency preparedness and response programmes.

- Developing and updating norms and standards in various technical areas including health emergency planning, legislation, risk mitigation and management approaches, human resource development, and partnership building.

- Strengthening coordination and synergy with other UN agencies and programmes as well as other international humanitarian actors.

- Building on the expertise available in other WHO technical programmes in order to address the needs of communities and populations affected by crises. In other words, WHO will build on its strengths and comparative advantages and make them available to its Member States and other international health partners.

- Important achievements were made by WHO in improving its performance in this area of work in 2005. More work is needed.

The challenges facing us in addressing our priorities are huge. They cannot be met without effective collaboration with other stakeholders. Expanding joint work and partnerships is a key objective for 2006.

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