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Notice to Readers International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction

Since 1975, natural disasters (e.g., earthquakes, floods, tropical cyclones, and volcanic eruptions) have caused approximately 3 million deaths worldwide, adversely affected the lives of at least 800 million additional persons (of whom 47 million were left homeless {1}), and caused more than $50 billion in property damage (2). To promote internationally coordinated efforts to reduce material losses and social and economic disruption caused by natural disasters, especially in developing countries (3), on December 11, 1987, a United Nations General Assembly Resolution declared the 1990s as the "International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction" (IDNDR). The goal of the IDNDR is to improve each country's capacity to prevent or diminish adverse effects from natural disasters and to establish guidelines for the application of existing science and technology to reduce the impact of natural disasters. During May 23-27, 1994, the United Nations will convene the World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction in Yokohama, Japan, to review progress toward reducing the adverse effects of disasters during the IDNDR.

Many efforts to minimize the consequences of natural disasters have emphasized scientific and technologic advances unrelated to public health (e.g., development of satellite-based warning systems that predict hurricane landfall, design of buildings to withstand earthquake-related ground shaking, and improvement of radar systems to detect newly formed tornadoes). However, findings from epidemiologic studies following disasters are helping to establish strategies to decrease morbidity and mortality from such events (4,5). For example, during the past 15-20 years, the number of tornado-related deaths in the United States has declined, in part, because of the findings of epidemiologic studies used to develop effective tornado safety guidelines (6). In addition, since 1985, the frequency and magnitude of disaster-related measles outbreaks in refugee camps in Africa and Asia have declined as a result of effective measles vaccination campaigns (7). These findings demonstrate the role of public health in reducing the impact of natural disasters.

Objectives of the IDNDR related to preventing or reducing the public health impact of natural disasters in each country include

  1. strengthening human resources and building institutional capacity (e.g., incorporating key principles of emergency preparedness and response into the curricula of institutions such as schools of medicine and public health); 2) integrating key emergency preparedness principles and procedures into ongoing public and primary health programs (e.g., environmental health, public health surveillance, and vaccination programs); 3) improving collaboration on preparedness and response (e.g., strengthening relations between health programs and other sectors involved in emergency preparation); 4) conducting community-based epidemiologic research immediately following natural disasters on the public health consequences of such events (e.g., developing models that predict the public's vulnerability to different types of natural disasters or identifying populations at increased risk from disasters); 5) improving technology- and information-transfer strategies; 6) improving communication between communities at risk before, during, and after a disaster (e.g., coordinating between public health agencies and other key response organizations to streamline communication procedures, exploring technologic alternatives for improved data retrieval, and developing databases about natural hazards specific to each country and information about regional and international resources available for immediate emergency assistance); and 7) developing early-warning systems.

Reported by: Disaster Assessment and Epidemiology Section, Health Studies Br, Div of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, National Center for Environmental Health, CDC.


  1. International Red Cross. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies: world disasters report. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1993.

  2. National Research Council. Confronting natural disasters: an International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1987.

  3. United Nations. The International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. New York: United Nations, December 1987. (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 42/160.A/RES/ 42/169.11).

  4. Binder S, Sanderson LM. The role of the epidemiologist in natural disasters. Ann Emerg Med 1987;16:1081-4.

  5. Noji EK. The role of epidemiology in natural disaster reduction. In: Proceedings of the U.S.-Japan natural disaster reduction workshop. Tokyo: Japan Science & Technology Agency, 1992:327-45.

  6. Glass RI, Craven RB, Bregman DJ, et al. Injuries from the Wichita Falls tornado: implications for prevention. Science 1980;207:734-8.

  7. Toole MJ, Waldman RJ. Prevention of excess mortality in refugee and displaced populations in developing countries. JAMA 1990;263:3296-302.

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