I am sure you do not need reminding of the large-scale disasters that have plagued our planet in recent years. Global warming has played a large part in this with historic temperature variations occurring in many parts of the world, like recent snow on the pyramids of Giza, and increases in adverse weather events, such as heavy rains, floods, and typhoons. For example, the huge Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) hit the Philippines on 8 November 2013, eventually continuing its destructive path into Vietnam.

Typhoons seem to be growing in intensity in the Asia-Pacific region, and often hit areas where people are poor and local infrastructure is limited. This typhoon was the deadliest on record to affect the Philippines. As I write this editorial, bodies are still being found, and health systems are struggling to cope with the health needs of the population, especially as immediate international relief efforts wind down.

Of course there are many other types of disasters and nurses like all other health professionals need to be better equipped to deal with their aftermath. While it is not in our power to stop such terrible events in the natural world, it is in our power to be better prepared to help communities deal with losses and ongoing effects. We also can be better prepared to help ourselves, for nurses are victims of disaster, too. Although the awareness of nurses regarding disaster preparation has grown around the world over the last decade, most nurses are not yet prepared, educationally or psychologically, to respond to disasters, despite scientists warning us that such disasters will continue with possibly greater catastrophic events in the 21st century. Little is known about the numbers of nurses who were gravely affected by the typhoon, and needing direct assistance (Philippine Nurses Association 2013). This was truly a catastrophic event and while our hearts might go out to our colleagues in the Philippines and Vietnam, such sentiments are not enough. We must help nurses in these troubled areas to cope and be prepared for future disasters.

Unfortunately around the world we have only made very small inroads into providing nurses with appropriate disaster nursing education and training at undergraduate and graduate levels, and in courses offered within health systems. ‘Health systems and health care delivery in disaster situations are only successful when nurses have the fundamental disaster competencies or abilities to rapidly and effectively respond' (World Health Organization and International Council of Nurses 2009, p. 6). Capacity building in nursing and midwifery is needed to help limit injury and death, and provide for the ongoing health and well being of communities long after the disaster event. For example, the psychological effects of disasters often last for many years, and nurses need to be trained in psychological first aid, just as they are trained in physical first aid. Nurses have a major role to play in risk assessment and in helping communities be better prepared for disasters, large or small.

I hope that everyone who reads this editorial will take steps to prepare nurses and midwives for disasters of the future, for these will pose serious and ongoing public health risks wherever they occur. We need to take urgent and critical action in all countries to ensure that nursing curricula contain some element of disaster nursing. The ICN Framework for Disaster Nursing Competencies (2009) will help in designing such courses. Specific courses for disaster nursing have been instigated in a number of countries, but often in more developed countries. Nurses need to make international efforts in this capacity building, and this involves advocating, policy-making, research, programme design and implementation. Since we are the largest group of health professionals globally, it is within our power to bring to the attention of politicians and policy-makers the urgent need to prepare nurses for disasters. After all if we don't do it, who will?

The only certain thing about disasters is that they will happen in the future, so do your best to help nurses of the world be better prepared. I believe that this is one of our moral and humanitarian imperatives of the 21st Century.


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