Emergencies and their impacts

An emergency is a sudden and unforeseen event that calls for immediate measures to minimise its adverse consequences. Emergencies may force the population to move away from their homes to avoid the impacts. Emergency situations are often caused by disasters such as droughts, floods, earthquakes, disease outbreaks, wars and other conflicts.

A disaster is a serious disruption of the functioning of society, causing widespread human, material or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected population to cope using only its own resources. A rapid-onset disaster could be defined as resulting from a unique, distinct and unforeseeable event such as a flood. A slow-onset disaster unfolds gradually over time and is often the result of a combination of events such as drought which leads to population movements and to widespread famine.

Displacement of people as a result of emergencies is not uncommon in developing countries. Displaced people may need temporary settlements, like the one shown in Figure 14.1. When they are first established, these settlements will probably lack the infrastructure to deal with the sanitation requirements for a large number of people.

Figure 14.1 Newly arrived refugees registering at a camp

It is important to understand that management of water, sanitation and hygiene arrangements are often critical for survival, particularly in the early stages of any emergency. People in emergency situations are generally much more susceptible to illness and death from diseases that are related to inadequate sanitation, waste management, water supplies and poor hygiene conditions. Vulnerable groups such as young children, the elderly and pregnant women are most at risk.

The most significant diseases in emergencies are the infectious diseases transmitted by the faecal-oral route. The main objective of any sanitation, waste management and hygiene promotion intervention in an emergency situation is to reduce the transmission of faecal-oral diseases and the exposure to disease-bearing vectors. This is achieved through management, control and promotion of good hygiene practices along with the provision of safe drinking water. Emergency management aims to reduce environmental health risks by establishing the conditions that allow people to live with good health, dignity, comfort and security.

Emergencies require an immediate response to minimise impacts and bring order to the situation.

Many other agencies are involved in an emergency response including the national governments, international organisations such as the United Nations, as well as international and local NGOs.

Last modified: Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:41 AM