Management of disasters and complex emergencies in Africa: The challenges and constraints

Ann Afr Med. 2015 Jul-Sep;14(3):123-31. doi: 10.4103/1596-3519.149894.


Natural and man-made catastrophes have caused significant destruction and loss of lives throughout human history. Disasters accompany a wide variety of events with multiple causes and consequences often leading to a cascade of related events. African continent has not been spared of these events. A new phenomenon in the continent is terrorism that is fuelled by globalization of arms trade and has contributed significantly to escalation of conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) resulting in complex emergencies and destruction of socioeconomic structures. The aim of this paper is to review relevant papers on management of disasters and complex emergencies in Africa and the challenges and constraints against the background of a weakened health system. Systematic search of published literature was conducted between 1990 and 2013. Grey literature (technical reports, government documents), published peer review journals, abstracts, relevant books and internet articles were reviewed. The review revealed that the frequency of both natural and man-made disasters in Africa is escalating. Complex emergencies are also on the increase since the Rwandan crisis in 1994. The impact of these events has overstretched and overwhelmed the health care system that is least prepared to handle and cope with the surge capacity and also render normal services. In conclusion, there is an urgent need for national emergency agencies/departments across Africa to develop a robust emergency preparedness and response plan. Every hospital most have a disaster management committee with flexible disaster management plan to respond to these catastrophes. There is a need for curriculum review in tertiary institutions across SSA to introduce and or expand training in disaster management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Communication
  • Disaster Planning*
  • Disasters*
  • Emergencies*
  • Humans
  • Public Health
  • Public Health Surveillance