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Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, South- East Asia Region shares a message on 10th year anniversary of Tsunami

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She highlights the need to be prepared to respond to the most unexpected disaster, anywhere, anytime

Dec. 24, 2014: “Ten years ago, on 26th December 2004 massive tsunami waves hit countries in South-East Asia Region causing death, destruction and devastation of unbelievable scale. Nearly 200,000 lives were lost, 800 primary and secondary health facilities destroyed and coastal villages and people’s livelihoods completely wiped out.  That mega disaster was a turning point. It put the spotlight on the need to be prepared to respond to the most unexpected disaster, anywhere, anytime.

Concerted efforts have been made since then. WHO South-East Asia Regional office (SEARO) and WHO country offices have worked closely with the member countries for building emergency preparedness and response capacities to respond to such disasters. A set of Benchmarks for Emergency Preparedness and Response have been developed by WHO SEARO. The benchmarks include standards, indicators and guided questions to measure what is in place for legal frameworks, plans, finance, coordination mechanisms, community capacities, capacity development and early warning. WHO has also established the South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund (SEARHEF) for predictable funding of emergencies. 

Countries are using the WHO benchmarks for capacity development and assessment for risk management in the health sector. Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and Maldives continue to improve systems they set-up with knowledge and tools developed through the lessons of the tsunami.  Even countries in the WHO South East Asia, not affected by tsunami, are doing so using the same knowledge. The WHO Benchmarks and SEARHEF, which were established after the 2004 tsunami, have served us well in recent years. As a result, preparedness and response capacities have increased phenomenally, which has been demonstrated in the handling of recent events such as the massive earthquake in Indonesia on 11 April 2012. Timely evacuation, tsunami warning in the entire South-East Asia region with adequate government and community action resulted in minimal deaths and destruction.

While preparedness is the key to minimize the impact of disasters, measuring preparedness is a sound basis for addressing risks, no matter what the cause.  There is a need to continuously measure the actions objectively and identify and address gaps, to be able to respond better. Our efforts and investments into planning for and responding to emergencies must continue. We need to make risk management capacities pervasive in all levels of society – in all sectors – because as our capacities increase, so do our risks. We must continue to invest and strengthen our capacities for prevention and preparedness to save more lives.”