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Disasters Increase BioHazards – Global Health Is Personal

November 16, 2008

One of the first necessities to fail, in any human related crisis, is hygiene.  Even people who are educated about personal health, struggle to maintain cleanliness when they loose control of their environment.  This sounds like the elementary school lesson you slept through, but its not!  Healthy practices vary widely.  What is considered acceptable in one culture may be unacceptable in another. In medical contexts, the term “hygiene” refers to the maintenance of health and healthy living.  In a greater context, personal hygiene is directly related to your control over your environment.  Your environment determines exactly how long you will live.

When crisis, disaster or disruption enters your environment you no longer control your hygiene, nutrition or shelter.  The bio hazards that surround us may breach, exposing us to elements and compounds we cannot even pronounce.  Most Americans are happily unaware or uninterested in the toxins surrounding them.  THAT is always someone else’s job.  The American infrastructure was built to be the guardian of it’s citizens.  We are watching that infrastructure collapse.

Americans, historically, have taken personal hygiene for granted and treated their environment with a cavalier attitude.  Most Americans, except of course those who travel overseas, take for granted flushing toilets and basic soap and water availability.  Cleanliness awareness has not always been a priority to most Americans, because, we assume too much.  Others are usually held responsible for our health and safety, like government agencies, with little assistance from us.

This irresponsible behavior may have already hit THE wall. Media is flashing more stories about “green living” “low carbon footprint” and “fuel economy”.  But underlying all that, is the unspoken reality that floods, fires, earthquakes, etc, unearth buried hazards from past and present irresponsible behavior, and are seeping back into our lives.  Occasionally our attention is caught by the coverage of a playground, school or subdivision built on a toxic waste dump.  Lawsuits address only one contamination revelation at a time.  Too often the results are settled out of court with the findings muted by confidentiality agreements.  The public seldom finds out the implications of toxic exposures until it is too late.

We are surrounded by toxins of our own making, but, are disconnected from the consequences of our personal lifestyles.  Our basic soaps, cleansers, pest control, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, and petroleum based products are all bio hazards in their pure state, but when disposed of carelessly, they inadvertently mix together.  These bizarre mixtures create their own compounds, often more toxic. Disasters throw us into contact with these exotic chemicals, worthy of science fiction movies.  America has shared its waste products with less fortunate countries in exchange for monetary or contractual payola.  Those countries now must live with those consequences.

2005 2006 2007 and 2008 have been phenomenal years for catastrophes  UN agencies address worldwide disasters.

Tsunamis, hurricanes and typhoons, earthquakes, locusts, the threat of a flu pandemic. Will 2005 be remembered as the year of natural disasters? That’s the question posed in a bulletin recently issued by  World Health Organization (WHO). From January to October 2005, an estimated 97,490 people were killed in disasters globally-88,117 in natural disasters, according to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). According to CRED, the number of natural disasters-floods, windstorms, droughts and geological disasters-recorded since 1900 has increased and the number of people affected by such disasters has also increased since 1975.

FEMA addresses American disasters.

2005 Federal Disaster Declarations

2006 Federal Disaster Declarations

2007 Federal Disaster Declarations

2008 Federal Disaster Declarations

Assessing Public Health in Emergency Situations

The World Health Report 2008World Health Report calls for return to primary health care approach

The world health report 2007 – A safer future: global public health security in the 21st century

Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) contains essential core data on the occurrence and effects of over 16,000 mass disasters in the world from 1900 to present.

Complex Emergency Database (CE-DAT) is an international initiative to monitor and evaluate the health status of populations in regions affected by conflicts and other complex emergencies.

MICRODIS is a project with the overall goal to strengthen preparedness, mitigation and prevention strategies.


Please don’t forget to flush the LOO – when you finish laughing at your scatalogical humor, its time to get serious.

I am accountable for my own waste, I don’t need to account for yours, too.  And we certainly don’t need the extra burden of accounting for the waste from manufacturers cost cutting strategies.  To quote an anonymous astronaut “we are swimming in everyone’s farts up there …”.  Well, I don’t want to swim in everyone’s waste products, down here.

World Toilet Summit & Expo 2008 promotes sustainable sanitation in support of the International Year of Sanitation

Sanitation Updates

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