The foundation for WHO’s work in the area of disaster preparedness and response was laid down in Article 2 of the WHO constitution, which charges the Organization to “furnish appropriate technical assistance and, in emergencies, necessary aid upon the request or acceptance of Governments”.
Following several high-profile crises, most notably the tsunami of December 2004, Member States requested that WHO improve its emergency response capacities. The Member States also asked the Organization for technical support in the development and improvement of national health-sector emergency preparedness and response programmes. This was emphasized in World Health Assembly resolutions 58.1 and 59.22, which also reaffirmed the need to work more closely with the United Nations and the international humanitarian community. In this context, the United Nations humanitarian reform process has given greater prominence to WHO’s humanitarian role, assigning to WHO the role of health cluster lead agency.
In line with this role, the Sixtieth World Health Assembly resolved “to reduce the health consequences of emergencies, disasters, crises and conflicts, and minimize their social and economic impact” as the fifth of thirteen strategic objectives that will serve as guidelines for WHO’s work in 2008–2013.