NEW YORK—(ENEWSPF)–1 March 2010 – The massive earthquake which struck Chile on Saturday has severely disrupted health services, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported today, dispatching a disaster management expert to the South American nation to assist in the aftermath of the catastrophe.
The magnitude-8.8 earthquake occurred in the early hours of the morning on 27 February, and has claimed more than 700 lives, according to Government officials, with the death toll expected to climb as communications are restored to the most affected areas.
The health network in the country’s north is operating normally, with hospitals continuing to function in the metropolitan area of Santiago, Chile’s capital.
In the south, however, access to health services is proving to be a major challenge, with the collapse of six hospitals and two others being severely damaged.
The Chilean Air Force is setting up four field hospitals, each holding up to 60 patients, and there may be a need for additional facilities.
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/WHO noted that there is a shortage of healthcare personnel, but that everyone in need of medical assistance is receiving it at this time.
Chilean infrastructure has been severely impacted, with some 500,000 homes having been seriously damaged. Adobe structures are believed to have been most affected and indigenous populations most at risk.
PAHO/WHO have deployed a disaster management expert to support its country office – whose facilities in Santiago sustained damage and is now operating out of a Government building – and work with efforts led by the Ministry of Health to assess damage to health facilities.
A PAHO/WHO health emergency response team, comprising more than 80 trained specialists in a range of disciplines, is on standby.
The agency is also urging Member States in the region which have available field hospitals and generators to send them to Chile.
On Saturday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement, expressed “his condolences to those who have lost family and friends and wishes those injured a speedy recovery.”
He added that the UN system, through its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), is on standby to offer rapid assistance to the Chilean Government and people.
The Santiago-based UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reports that no casualties have been identified among the 987 UN staff members and consultants working in Chile. However, the buildings used by several agencies have been damaged, including ECLAC’s headquarters. The head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today said that her agency is prepared to assist Chile recover from the massive quake, underscoring the need for countries in high-risk areas to bolster their disaster risk reduction capacity.
“The earthquake that struck Chile is another distressing example of our vulnerability to natural disasters and the need for greater vigilance and preparedness,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
“This is especially important for high-risk coastal communities, where there is little time for populations to receive any warning, as was sadly the case for those parts of Chile’s coastline that were close to the earthquake’s epicentre.”
She acknowledged the rapid actions taken by authorities across the Pacific region to the potential for tsunamis in the wake of the quake. The Pacific Tsunami Warning System, set up by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission in the 1960s after a similar earthquake off the Chilean coast, began issuing regular warnings moments after Saturday’s quake.
For its part, the World Bank has also extended its support to Chile to in the aftermath of the earthquake.
“Our thoughts are with the people of Chile at this difficult time,” said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick.