Since 1960 natural disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean have caused the death of more than 180,000 persons and approximately US$ 54 billion in property damages. The health sector has been particularly hard hit - hundreds have lost their lives when hospitals and health centers have collapsed in the most serious events, and health services interrupted when most needed.
As many as 50% of the more than 15,000 hospitals existing in the Region may be at high risk to natural disasters. A considerable number of these health facilities lack disaster mitigation programs, emergency plans or the appropriate infrastructure for resisting powerful earthquakes and hurricanes.
This need not be the case. Health facilities can take measures to reduce the structural impact of natural disasters. The additional cost of building hospitals to seismic and wind resistance standards is minimal, making the failure to enforce such standards inexcusable. Providing structural reinforcement in existing facilities is, however, much more costly.
Interventions to reduce nonstructural vulnerability-protecting equipment, medical supplies or ensuring the integrity of lifeline services, for example-can be carried out to a large extent by staff of the health facility with minimal capital investment.