Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Earthquake and Long Term Health Disaster

The earth shook for maybe a minute. That was the longest estimate I've heard so far. A minute is a long, long time for an earthquake, because usually they hit and run in a matter of a few seconds. But this one in Haiti apparently took its time, staying long enough to really tear things down. But still, it was only a minute and then it was over. Right? 

Hardly. The quake itself is only the beginning. People crushed by collapsing buildings comprise only the leading edge of the death toll.  Over the coming months, survivors of the quake will face the devastation that will be caused by disease. Here's what Dr. Manny Alvarez had to say about it. He's the spokesperson for health issues on 

"There will be significant long-term health effects that this earthquake in Haiti will bring. Even before the earthquake, Haiti’s public health status was under terrible strain. Haiti still has significant problems with clean water, and dealing with certain diseases like malaria and Dengue fever. With further destruction of the water supply, the people of Haiti are going to be at increased risk of developing gastrointestinal diseases, food poisoning, as well as worsening of injuries sustained by those in high-risk groups like children and seniors."

When a water supply is broken up during an earthquake, and the sewer system is breached by the shifting ground, and the two mingle — you can imagine what will happen. Even in a highly developed country with adequate resources, this kind of destruction can take weeks to repair. Drinking water becomes unavailable very quickly, maintaining good hygiene is almost impossible, and disease spreads like wildfire.

But in a place like Haiti, where government resources are in virtually nonexistent, where medical care is unavailable, and where a huge population lives in poverty even on the best day, this is a total disaster. Those who survived the quake but were injured are going to face the potential for serious infection. And without the ability to treat those injuries, the death toll will continue to rise.

The way I see it, shortage of drinkable water and disease are going to be the two biggest survival issues. The earth has stopped shaking, but the worst is yet to come.

How can you prepare for something like this?
  • Be aware of the risks of natural disaster in your area. Earthquake is only one of many calamities that can happen. Do a risk analysis for your area and prepare appropriately. 
  • Store drinkable water in a location that won't be totally destroyed by a quake. A small storage shed  might be better than storing the water supply in a larger structure, because even if it collapses it will be easier to dig through the rubble and retrieve your supplies. 
  • Get as much first aid training as possible so you can be at least somewhat self-sufficient in treating emergency medical problems. 
  • Have a comprehensive first aid kit stashed in a location that will be easy to reach even if the building is destroyed. 
  • The same goes for food — have at least a 72-hour supply of foods that need almost no preparation. 
  • With all the shelters knocked down, it is a good idea to have emergency shelter and other supplies available. A tent, sleeping bag or blankets, camp stove, flashlights, stuff like that.
  • In the tropics (or even the subtropics) mosquito netting and insect repellent are like pure gold. Analyze the needs for your particular area and make preparations now. 

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