WHO takes on natural disasters on several fronts

News release

MANILA, 2 October 2009—The World Health Organization (WHO) is responding on multiple fronts to natural disasters over the past week that hit countries in the Western Pacific Region.

The move follows the earthquake-driven tsunami that hit coastal areas of Samoa and American Samoa, an earthquake in Tonga, and flooding in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Ketsana, which later also wreaked havoc in Viet Nam, Cambodia and the Lao People's Democratic Republic. In Samoa, WHO has sent technical assistance and medical supplies to the tsunami-stricken country following an 8.0 magnitude undersea quake that struck on Wednesday.

WHO, which is providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Health and the United Nations Disaster Management Team, has sent Dr Rodger Doran, Regional Adviser in Emergency and Humanitarian Action, to assist the government and the UN agencies coordinating international support.

Medical supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and gowns, are being provided at the request of the government. WHO is also distributing water to victims of the tsunami as well as assisting in transporting the evacuees and the injured.

The earthquake triggered waves as high as 2.5 metres, leaving approximately 100 dead and more than 1000 injured. Officials fear the death toll could rise as rescue workers continue to struggle to reach outlying villages submerged and flattened by the waves.

In Tonga, WHO despatched Dr Jennie Musto, a health specialist from the Organization's office in Fiji, to help the local health authorities in their response to the earthquake.

Meanwhile, the United States Coast Guard has sent relief items and workers to American Samoa, a United States territory.

In the Philippines, flooding caused by Typhoon Ketsana last weekend submerged vast areas, including much of the capital, Manila, leaving more than 200 people dead and tens of thousands homeless.

WHO's relief efforts include the delivery of supplies, such as 10 000 water containers as well as first-aid kits. Zinc tablets for diarrhoeal diseases are expected to arrive this Sunday. The supplies are part of an immediate response of US$42 000 released by WHO's Western Pacific Regional Office, based in Manila. WHO is also coordinating international health efforts to make sure the right assistance reaches the right people.

With 700 000 people reportedly sheltering in resettlement centres, another typhoon is now threatening the country. Typhoon Parma, with winds at its centre estimated at between 220kph and 270kph, is expected to hit the Philippines tomorrow.

After leaving the Philippines earlier this week, Typhoon Ketsana hit central Viet Nam Tuesday, killing at least 99 people, and causing widespread flooding. Some 170 000 people have reportedly been evacuated. WHO has given financial support to Viet Nam for the purchase of urgent medical supplies and basic needs. The typhoon also caused damage in Cambodia.

For more information, please contact Dr Arturo Pesigan, WHO Emergency and Humanitarian Action, at +63 2 528 9810; e-mail: pesigana@wpro.who.int