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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
The Pan American Health Organisation has recently released two new publications which I feel are of importance and worthy of inclusion in the editoral rather than in a book review section.
The first of these, Humanitarian Assistance in Disaster Situations: A Guide to Effective Aid, looks at international responses to natural disasters and how this could and, in some instances, should be co-ordinated. The booklet works from the premise that there is good aid and inappropriate aid. This is something that we all can relate to. In this age of instant communications we can observe disasters virtually from their onset, and aid and charity relief can be rapidly organised. The question that this booklet raises is that of "what aid is required now, if any?" Just because there has been large-scale damage to the infrastructure; just because there are pictures of apparently helpless and bewildered people reaching into our homes via the mass media does not mean that we have to start shipping out large quantities of blankets and food.
The booklet describes basic steps that should be considered before such reaction is implemented. The primary period is that of evaluation by the home nation based on which they, and only they, should make the call for international help or aid. This is a topic that I broached in a previous editorial. It is difficult for others not involved directly to adopt a "wait and see" philosophy. They are besieged daily by the media pictures of devastation; of crying children searching for parents; of people scrambling through rubble looking for loved ones and other survivors, and they want to help. It is difficult to sit back and do nothing in the face of such tragedy. The booklet describes how inappropriate aid can hinder rather than help and goes on to outline the correct procedures that should be followed.
The second book, Natural Disasters: Protecting the Public's Health is rather more of an overall guide to disaster response and management. Similar to the first booklet, this is based on years of practical experience and as a primer for those engaged in disaster management it is a "must read". The book is not a theoretical treatise on disaster management but rather a maze through the maze. The sections are short but nevertheless pertinent with sections on the major topic issues. The main theme that runs through this book is that of "if you are not prepared, then you will fail". A salient lesson for all.
These books are free and seldom is such knowledge and wisdom given away freely in this day and age.
Henry C. Wilson