Monthly Archives: September 2009

Myths and Realities in Disaster Situations

Myth # 1: Foreign medical volunteers with any kind of medical background are needed.

Reality: The local almost always covers immediate lifesaving needs. Only medical personnel with skills that are not available in the affected country may be needed.

Myth # 2: Any kind of international assistance is needed and it’s needed now!

Reality: A hasty response that is not based on an impartial evaluation only contributes to the chaos. It is better to wait until genuine needs have been assessed.

Myth # 3: Epidemics and plagues are inevitable after every disaster.

Reality: Epidemics do no spontaneously occur after a disaster and dead bodies will not lead to catastrophic outbreaks of exotic diseases. The key to preventing disease is to improve sanitary conditions and educate the public.

Myth # 4: Disasters bring out the worst in human behaviour.

Reality: Although isolated cases of antisocial behaviour exists, the majority of people respond spontaneously and generously.

Myth # 5: The affected population is too shocked and helpless to take responsibility for their own survival.

Reality: On the contrary, many find new strength during an emergency, as evidenced by the thousands of volunteers who flock to the disaster site, looking for ways to help.

Myth # 6: Disasters are random killers.

Reality: Disasters strike hardest at the most vulnerable group, the poor – especially women, children and the elderly.

Myth # 7: Locating disaster victims in temporary settlement is the best alternative.

Reality: It should be the last alternative. Many agencies use funds normally spent for tents to purchase building materials, tools, and other construction-related support in the affected country.

Myth # 8: Things are back to normal within a few weeks.

Reality: The effects of a disaster last a long time. Disaster-affected countries deplete much of their financial and material resources in the immediate post-impact phase. Successful relief programs gear their operations to the fact that international interest wanes as needs and shortages become more pressing.

Source: Emergency Humanitarian Assistance, World Health Organization, Regional Office for the Western Pacific. Action, Preparedness, Collaboration Fact Sheets. Manila: WHO-WPRO. 2005.