Speech by Dr. Olivé on the occasion of World Disaster Reduction Day 2008
Dr. Jean-Marc Olivé, WHO Representative to Viet Nam on behalf of the United Nations Country Team Campaign for 2008-2009 Hospitals Safe from Disasters
Dear distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the WHO Representative in Vietnam, it is very much my honor to speak on behalf of the United Nations at this important event to commemorate the International Day for Disaster Reduction, with this year’s theme, “Hospitals Safe from Disasters”.
For weeks now violent storms, typhoons, storm surges and flash floods have been lashing the central and northern provinces of Viet Nam.
These natural disasters have caused several deaths and widespread damage to crucial infrastructure – including health centres.
Just last month more than 130 people died when Typhoon KAMMURI swept across 9 northern provinces. Hundreds were left in need of urgent medical treatment.
Dozens of health facilities collapsed, were severely damaged or flooded. Reports from the joint assessment teams sent to the region showed that the damage to these health facilities could have been prevented or minimized if preparedness and prevention plans were in place.
Considering these disasters and with current weather extremes predicted to worsen with climate change impact, the need to engage fully in disaster risk reduction has never been more pressing.
This country knows only too well that a public health system is most vulnerable when natural disasters strike.
You also all know that the most expensive hospital is the one that fails.
Hospitals and health facilities represent an enormous investment for any country. Their destruction from a natural disaster imposes major health and economic burdens.
Disasters are a health and a social issue: Not only is health treatment critical in the aftermath of a disaster, damage to health facilities and systems affects development long into the future.
But protecting critical health facilities from disasters is possible and cost effective.
Ensuring that risk reduction is included in the design and construction of all new health facilities and reducing vulnerability to existing health facilities, through selecting and retrofitting critical facilities, costs less than you might expect.
Worldwide the UN has learned many lessons from major disasters - including the Asian Tsunami in 2004, the Pakistan earthquake in 2005, Hurricane Katrina in the USA and more recently Typhoon Nagis in Burma and the earthquake in China.
These recent, large-scale disasters show that the collapse and dysfunction of hospitals and health facilities lead to a second wave of disaster, because the health needs of the most affected population cannot be met.
This threatens not only human life and health but also the long-term development of the entire community.
We know that Vietnam has a long and proud history of reacting quickly to disasters, with a strong ability to mobilize resources to help those most in need.
However, there are still many hospitals, health facilities and especially health centres at the community level that are being flooded, damaged or destroyed every year.
Their destruction creates major challenges to the continuum of health care activities.
Damage to hospitals and health facilities can be prevented or minimized. Simple measure such as selecting an elevated area to build or relocate a health facility is an effective and simple measure to protect health facility from floods.
The principal cause of unsafe hospitals is not as lack of budget. The cost for building a safe hospital is a minimal addition to the original budget. Appropriate building designs, safety policies and public awareness on this issue are key factors to achieve hospitals that are safe from disasters.
Currently Vietnam has no policies, standards or specific programmes for making hospitals and health facilities resilient to disasters.
However is action underway – including the development of a national strategy, training healthcare staff, improved resources, improved health emergency management and the creation of more effective coordination mechanisms in Viet Nam. Through strong political commitment the Government of Viet Nam can reduce risk in hospitals and health facilities and make them safe from disasters by reducing their vulnerability to natural hazards.
In the past cooperation between the UN and Government of Viet Nam has resulted in improved policies & laws, better monitoring & evaluation and building capacity at local level to better respond to natural disasters. We have worked to support Government agencies at all levels to better integrate disaster risk reduction and preparedness in the national socio-economic development plans, strategies and programmes and helped build core capacity of key coordinating bodies.
Last but not least, on behalf of all my colleagues here in Viet Nam, I would like to express our sincerest condolences to all those families affected by recent Typhoons. This is a strong reminder that disaster risk reduction must remain a top priority for the future of this country.
We urge all concerned – Government, Civil Society and the Private Sector, international financial institutions and other international organisations to invest their efforts in disaster reduction and to implement concrete measures to reduce vulnerability.
On this occasion of World Disaster Reduction Day our motivation for success is great – simply it means more lives will be saved.
Thank you all for your kind attention.