Investment in emergency preparedness pays off in Sri Lanka

Mobile health teams are greeting warmly by the community in flood affected areas

In May 2016, a flood and landslide disaster struck Sri Lanka and left the country reeling. Over 100 lives were lost and over 400 000 people were affected, many of whom were displaced from their homes. The World Health Organization immediately supported the country’s early recovery and response, facilitating the deployment of mobile health teams to affected areas while securing emergency funding from the South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund (SEARHEF) and the United Nations Central Emergency Fund (CERF).

Sri Lanka has extensive experience dealing with emergencies and the response from the government was swift. The army, navy and air force quickly conducted search and rescue missions evacuating thousands of people to the 600 safe locations set up around the country. Over 1 000 health care workers were deployed to provide essential medical services for those in disaster affected areas.

WHO worked closely with the Emergency Operations Centre at the Ministry of Health (MoH) to identify health care services gaps and to monitor health trends across the country. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, WHO supported the deployment of mobile medical teams including mental health specialists and strengthened health promotion activities. WHO also provided much needed telecommunications equipment, search and rescue packs and hygiene kits.

‘Long term investment in emergency preparedness and response will always reap rewards. The MoH has prioritized this issue for the past decade, drawing lessons from the 2004 tsunami to strengthen their emergency response capacity,’ states Dr Jacob Kumaresan, WHO Representative to Sri Lanka. To bolster the early recovery and response efforts, WHO secured over US$ 600 000 from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (UN CERF). An additional US $ 100 000 was mobilized through the WHO South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund (SEARHEF) to support the rapid response. This assistance will address the immediate needs of the health sector to help the recovery of the health services. ‘It is WHO’s priority that the government receives the assistance it requires to strengthen its health system in the wake of this disaster and ensure that the health of the Sri Lankan people is protected,’ assured Dr Jacob Kumaresan.

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