Myths and realities in disaster situations

MYTH: Foreign medical volunteers with any kind of medical background are needed.


REALITY: The local population almost always covers immediate lifesaving needs. Only medical personnel with skills that are not available in the affected country may be needed.

MYTH: Any kind of international assistance is needed, and it’s needed now!


REALITY: A hasty response that is not based on an impartial evaluation only contributes to the chaos. It is better to wait until genuine needs have been assessed.

MYTH: Disasters are random killers


REALITY: Disasters strike hardest at the most vulnerable group, the poor – especially women, children and the elderly.

MYTH: The affected population is too shocked and helpless to take responsibility for their own survival.


REALITY: On the contrary, many find new strength during an emergency, as evidenced by the thousands of volunteers who spontaneously united to sift through the rubble in search of victims after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.

MYTH: Locating disaster victims in temporary settlements is the best alternative.


REALITY: It should be the last alternative. Many agencies use funds normally spent for tents to purchase building materials, tools, and other construction-related support in the affected country.

MYTH: Things are back to normal within a few weeks.


REALITY: The effects of a disaster last a long time. Disaster-affected countries deplete much of their financial and material resources in the immediate post-impact phase. Successful relief programs gear their operations

MYTH: Epidemics and plagues are inevitable after every disaster.


REALITY: Epidemics do not spontaneously occur after a disaster and dead bodies will not lead to catastrophic outbreaks of exotic diseases. The key to preventing disease is to improve sanitary conditions and educate the public.

MYTH: Disasters bring out the worst in human behavior.


REALITY: Although isolated cases of antisocial behavior exist, the majority of people respond spontaneously and generously.

Source: Myths and realities in disaster situations (World Health Organisation)

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