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Confl Health. 2007 Mar 1;1:2.

Occurrence and overlap of natural disasters, complex emergencies and epidemics during the past decade (1995-2004).

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UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland.



The fields of expertise of natural disasters and complex emergencies (CEs) are quite distinct, with different tools for mitigation and response as well as different types of competent organizations and qualified professionals who respond. However, natural disasters and CEs can occur concurrently in the same geographic location, and epidemics can occur during or following either event. The occurrence and overlap of these three types of events have not been well studied.


All natural disasters, CEs and epidemics occurring within the past decade (1995-2004) that met the inclusion criteria were included. The largest 30 events in each category were based on the total number of deaths recorded. The main databases used were the Emergency Events Database for natural disasters, the Uppsala Conflict Database Program for CEs and the World Health Organization outbreaks archive for epidemics.


During the past decade, 63% of the largest CEs had > or =1 epidemic compared with 23% of the largest natural disasters. Twenty-seven percent of the largest natural disasters occurred in areas with > or = 1 ongoing CE while 87% of the largest CEs had > or = 1 natural disaster.


Epidemics commonly occur during CEs. The data presented in this article do not support the often-repeated assertion that epidemics, especially large-scale epidemics, commonly occur following large-scale natural disasters. This observation has important policy and programmatic implications when preparing and responding to epidemics. There is an important and previously unrecognized overlap between natural disasters and CEs. Training and tools are needed to help bridge the gap between the different type of organizations and professionals who respond to natural disasters and CEs to ensure an integrated and coordinated response.

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