Earthquakes worse than hurricanes, report finds

| 09/11/2011

(CNS):  A new study published by the medical journal The Lancet states that natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods do not put such a strain on medical authorities as earthquakes, of which there are about a million each year, or around two earthquakes per minute. Floods and hurricanes typically cause deaths due to drowning but few serious medical or surgical injuries. As such, these other disasters do not usually overload the existing medical system, the report says. By comparison, earthquakes not only cause many deaths initially, but also many severe injuries requiring complex surgical and resuscitative medical care.

By destroying medical facilities, roads, and bridges, in addition to interrupting medical supply chains, earthquakes devastate a country’s ability to deal with medical situations and create a large, unmet need for complex surgical andmedical care.

In the past decade alone, earthquakes have caused more than 780 000 deaths, The Lancet says, accounting for nearly 60 per cent of all disaster-related deaths.  In addition to these deaths, earthquakes have directly affected another 2 billion people during this time.
The threat of earthquakes will probably increase because of global urbanisation and the vulnerability of large urban centres, the report states.  Many of the most populous cities in the world are on fault lines, and thus millions of people are exposed to earthquakes.

People’s mental health can also be severely affected by earthquakes, The Lancet states, and thought of suicide may become more prevalent in areas hit by such a natural disaster. “Of all natural disasters, earthquakes are associated with the highest rates of suicide,” the report says.

In particular, young people are particularly vulnerable in countries where earthquakes have hit. Many developing countries, where high proportions of the populations are young people, are located in earthquake-prone regions, the report advises. Children are often at higher risk of injury and death during earthquakes than are adults. In Haiti, 53 per cent of patients were younger than 20 years old and 25 per cent were younger than 5 years. The elderly are also at risk, with a higher death rate than younger individuals after such natural disasters.

See full report here

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