Disaster and Humanitarian Information on the Web: A Review
by Paul S. Piper, Librarian, College of Arts and Sciences, Western Washington University
If I could only use one Internet site for international disaster information, I would choose ReliefWeb [http://www.reliefweb.int]. In 1994, the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs (UNDHA) received a request from the international humanitarian community to develop an international global network for communication and support. ReliefWeb was developed over the next year to meet this request. It currently hosts information provided by the United Nations, nine country governments, and innumerable humanitarian groups.
Perhaps the primary feature of ReliefWeb is an up-to-the-hour collection of field or situation reports generated by any number of relief agencies and/or governments working at the site of a disaster. Information in these reports typically provides the most current and detailed coverage of a disaster available anywhere, a veritable gold mine for researchers needing this level of coverage. These reports were previously arranged in one long list, but now they are divided into four areas: Complex Emergencies, Natural Disasters, the Bulletin (a selection of reports detailing new developments and major announcements), and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Latest Emergency Reports (which largely deal with complex emergencies and are often Afrocentric).
While these reports list chronologically, they (and all of ReliefWebís other documents) are fully searchable. The advanced search feature offers preset terms in the following fields: keywords (read thesaurus terms), geoterms (geological terminology), organizations, disaster types, information sources (agencies), document format (report, analysis, etc.), dates, and a keyword option. The initial search extends from 1997 to current, but users can also search the 1996 archives. In addition to situation reports, ReliefWeb has extensive disaster financial tracking data. Its coverage of complex emergencies spans from 1994 to current, while natural disaster tracking extends back to 1992.
An area designated as background provides links to country information. Country records typically subdivide into 11 categories (culture, demographics, economics, geography and environment, government, health, history, human rights/refugees, infrastructure and aid, military, and miscellaneous). Rather than actual data (like the CIA World Fact Book), these categories offer links to Web sites providing the data. And interestingly, the CIA Fact Book is not a source.
ReliefWeb also hosts an extensive map center featuring situation and political maps; an online library hosting numerous agency reports (such as UNICEFís State of the Worldís Children), disaster field manuals, and a collection of working papers; an extensive and authoritative directory of disaster relief and humanitarian organizations; a detailed collection of materials on emergency telecommunications; and early warning resources.
The early warning resources bear special mention. The ability to predict when and where a disaster will occur has advanced enormously with the use of computer modeling and simulation. The links in this area connect a researcher to agencies that specialize in this type of prediction and readiness for virtually all disaster types.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [http://www.icrc.org/eng] is one of the oldest disaster-relief organizations in the world. The ICRC operates in over 50 countries and provides relief for a diverse array of disasters. Two comprehensive areas of the site that offer unique information are ìOperations by Countryî and ìInternational Humanitarian Law.î
The ìOperations by Countryî area features maps, data, reports, news releases, and miscellaneous publications on disasters with which the ICRC has been involved. This is an excellent source of information on complex emergencies.
International humanitarian law (IHL) is one of the cornerstones of the ICRC, and its site provides virtually every relevant document and treaty on the subject. The IHL database in this section carries the full text of 91 treaties and texts, commentaries on the Geneva Conventions (and protocols), signatures, ratifications, and reservations. When searching this database, note that keywords are in fact thesaurus terms, while the ìWordî search offers natural language searching.
Users can search the entire ICRC site by keyword, country, geographical region, subject, and document type. Subject headings are broken out into general and specific.
Founded in 1919, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) [http://www.ifrc.org] has a presence in almost every country in the world today. The Red Crescent is used in place of the Red Cross in many Islamic countries, thus giving the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies a broader and more diverse coverage, particularly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, than the ICRC. This site features field situation reports, news releases, and other relevant information concerning worldwide disaster situations. In addition to extensive coverage of Islamic countries, another unique feature of the Web site is a directory of addresses and contact information for National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 175 countries. The site also contains to links to many country society Web sites. Unfortunately the site is not searchable.
When disasters strike in foreign countries, the U.S. response is led by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) [http://www.info.usaid.gov/ofda/], which is part of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) [http://www.info.usaid.gov/]. USAID is an independent federal agency that conducts foreign assistance and humanitarian aid to advance the political and economic interests of the United States. Both of these Web sites offer many resources for those seeking information on disasters and deal only with complex emergencies and natural disasters.
OFDA has several unique resources at its Web site, including a field operations manual and mitigation handbook online. These texts are considered bibles for field workers in disaster situation.
By choosing the ìReports Indexî link, one can view fact sheets pertaining to several disasters to which OFDA is currently responding, e.g., Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Sudan [complex emergencies], Columbia [earthquake], Central America, Caribbean [hurricanes]. Unfortunately these fact sheets do not seem to be searchable using the generic site search engine, and there is no other search engine available.
USAID has thousands of pages of information available on the Web, much of which deals with its policies and operations. USAID typically assists people in long-term recovery after disasters by rebuilding homes and communities, re-establishing agriculture and livestock, and conducting varied and extensive educational efforts in such areas as family planning, gender, public health, economic and related issues. Many online publications are featured on the USAID site. The ìRegions & Countriesî area is extremely worthwhile, detailing USAID involvement and typically encapsulating social and economic indicators.
The USAID site also hosts
the Global Education Database, which contains the most recent
statistics from UNESCO for 115 education and social indicators in
over 200 countries. Users can access information on a wide variety of
education variables such as school enrollments, gender parity, or
public education expenditures for a specific country over time. For
most of the indicators, time-series data are available from 1980
through 1996 or 1997. This database is available for download only
and is not functional over the Web.
Coalitions of Agencies: General
OneWorld [http://www.oneworld.org] evolved from One World Broadcasting Trust (OWBT), a British non-profit dedicated to advancing global development education via broadcasting. In 1994 OneWorld moved to the Internet. OneWorld created separate, autonomous Web sites for each of its development partners. VSO, for example, has had their own site created for them, over which they have both editorial controlóand editorial responsibility. But a further agreement allows the OneWorld editorial team to extract material from these partner sites and highlight them in a central area, regrouped by category. For example, the OneWorld News Service consists of articles and press releases from all of OneWorldís partners.
The entire site can be searched by the following fields: keyword, country, thesaurus terms (called pre-defined topics), time, and language. The database at the time of writing contained 582,069 documents and ranks search results by relevance.
Interaction [http://www.interaction.org] is a coalition of over 150 NGOs involved in global disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, and as such provides Web access (in the form of an alphabetized list of links) to these organizations. While the site covers all types of disaster situations, it places an emphasis on complex emergencies.
Other areas of the Web
site include links to disaster response training organizations,
workshops and conferences; country situation and member reports;
refugee facts and information; advocacy (InterAction is the
nationís leading advocate for international relief, refugee,
and development programs); and information on development.
Development, or rebuilding after a disaster strikes or relocation
occurs, is a key component of InterActionís work. This site
contains links to most of the key players (both NGOs and others such
as the World Bank) in this area of disaster relief. The Interaction
site is searchable, and the search interface supports complex Boolean
For inclusive information regarding complex emergencies, ReliefWeb is the best site. Most of the other sites detailed here have fair to superb coverage of complex emergencies as well. But since complex emergencies are political events with press coverage varying by the provider, searchers looking for information relevant to these events can often find a balanced (or sometimes more confusing!) coverage by searching the various news services (including country newspapers), country government sites (including military sites), sites sponsored by combatants, university and institute sites, antiwar organization sites, and so forth.
Natural Disasters: General
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) [http://www.fema.gov/] hosts a mega-Web site that covers practically every aspect of U.S. (and some international) disasters, including a great deal of information on mitigation, cost, and insurance. The FEMA site layout used to be easier to navigate than it is currently, but the site index and search feature help, as does a link (now on the bottom of the page) to the FEMA library.
The FEMA library has always been a great source of information, and now it is larger and more comprehensive than ever. Laid out as a clickable building map, it includes the following areas: animals in emergencies, archives, FEMA facts, field manuals, information technology, legal, maps, mitigation, preparedness and training, response and recovery, and a photo and video clip archive.
The ìFEMA Factsî area yields not only facts about FEMA, but references to a plethora of disaster facts and statistics.
The Archives serves as a source of information on historic and ìnotableî U.S. disasters such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the Northridge earthquake, and others, as well as online news releases and access to the online journal Recovery Times. This journal comes in large .pdf files, so expect lengthy downloading times, but also fully searchable files.
Since FEMA is a government site, it reflects the paperwork of government agencies. If one were so inclined, one could find here virtually every directive, manual, and form used by the agency. And in fact, the FEMA Web site encourages electronic submission of aid requests. Other useful items include disaster preparedness checklists, prevention guides (and federal guidelines), and repair guides for certain emergencies.
In addition to FEMA, the American Red Cross [http://www.redcross.org/] is a source of information on U.S. natural disasters, as well as spotty coverage of global disasters. Rich in public relations material and poorly laid out, their site makes finding the several items of use not easy to find! To use the site most effectively, choose the site directory option, which, in addition to an index, allows the user to perform a simple search.
One item of use is Talking about Disasters: Guide, a multi-section online publication that technically defines 13 disasters (including chemical emergencies) and discusses how to prevent, mitigate, and react to them. The guide was developed to assist anyone providing disaster safety information to the public. Based around historical data for the United States, it is clearly and simply written.
The disaster news and news archives also provide useful information, as does the link to a global disaster news resource, Disaster Relief [http://www.disasterrelief.org/]. Both these areas feature encapsulated coverage of current U.S. and limited global disasters.
The Natural Hazards Center [http://www.colorado.edu/hazards] at the University of Colorado, Boulder offers one of the finest collections of online resources on natural disasters. The Hazards Center puts out three online publications: Disaster Research (which focuses on conferences, grants, publications), the Natural Hazards Observer (the Centerís newsletter), and the Natural Hazards Informer (a new, peer-reviewed series that summarizes current knowledge about various aspects of natural hazards for practitioners, researchers, public policy-makers, and others). These publications all appear as HTML and are fully searchable, as are the archives.
The Hazards Center provides an annotated list of recent books, journals, and other publications on hazards and disasters. Some of the Hazards Center publications are available online. Extensive links are provided to disaster-related organizations, institutions, centers, and institutes; colleges, universities, and institutions offering emergency management courses; recently awarded grants for hazards/disaster research; upcoming conferences, workshops, and training; and an annotated bibliography of links to Web resources organized by disaster type. As someone who has come to detest the poorly organized, nonannotated mega-lists of hyperlinks, I appreciate the careful selection that went into selecting the links featured here.
now owned and sponsored by Discovery Channel Online, is a site that
lacks depth, but provides a quick, valid overview of natural and some
technological disasters worldwide. The site presents a clickable
world map over which icons depicting a variety of disasters (extreme
temperatures, wildfires, landslides, tropical storms, earthquakes,
tornadoes, volcanoes, landslides and avalanches, floods, disasters
involving fish, birds and mammals, and pollution) are placed.
Clicking one of these icons retrieves a news story of the particular
disaster. This site does feature some unique coverage, such as
disasters involving animals and pollution. Archives of alerts through
1998 are accessible, but unfortunately none of these seem searchable
without searching the entire Discovery Channel site.
Natural Disasters: Specific Coverage
There are a number of excellent sources of information on volcanoes, of which Iíve selected several for their extreme comprehensiveness and global coverage.
The Volcanoes Page at Michigan Technological University [http://www.geo.mtu.edu/volcanoes/] offers a plethora of information along with some nifty features including a clickable world map that catalogs global volcanological information. The site also provides information on recent and active volcanoes; mitigation information; remote sensing images, volcanology definitions; and even volcanic humor!
The Electronic Volcano [http://www.dartmouth.edu/~volcano/] is a more research-oriented site. It contains a listserv; bibliographies; datasets; full-text materials (including names and basic geographic and geologic information for volcanoes thought to have been active in the last 10,000 years [Holocene]); names of journals on volcanology (with partial library holdings and tables of contents); a few theses; and a volcano name and country index.
VolcanoWorld [http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/] calls itself the ìWebís premier source of volcano infoî and this is not too far off. While touting pictures, games, and videos, the site also offers a wealth of factual information. Under the ìVW Indexî link, you will find a list of approximately 120 linked subject headings. This is as close as any of these sites comes to being search friendly. None of them has a search engine.
For anyone craving a database, National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) [http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/seg/hazard/vol_srch.shtml], a division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provides the Worldwide Volcano Database that contains 4,300+ records. Searchable fields include volcano name, eruption year, map coordinates, geographic region, and magnitude.
This site also hosts the
Worldwide Earthquake Database [http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/seg/hazard/eqww.shtml]
and the Tsunami Event Database [http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/seg/hazard/tsevsrch.shtml].
The National Earthquake Information Center [http://wwwneic.cr.us gs.gov/] is an agency within the U.S. Geological Survey that harbors extensive national and global data on earthquakes. The site provides lists of ìready- referenceî information like the largest earthquakes over history, by country, by state; a glossary of terminology; earthquake lists, facts, and statistics; resources and mitigation; and information on tsunamis (tidal waves caused by earthquakes). On the home page is a quasi-GIS map of the world with all recent earthquakes delineated by magnitude. Click on the earthquake icon to get detailed information. In addition, the site provides access to a database that can be searched by location/date range, date, magnitude, depth, and intensity.
Cyclones, Hurricanes, and
A joint effort of the National Weather Service and NOAA, the National Hurricane Center Tropical Prediction Center [http://www.nhc. noaa.gov/] covers only the Atlantic and east Pacific oceans, but it does cover them extensively, including comprehensive satellite imagery. The usual lists of storm names, cyclone/ hurricane general information, historical data (deadliest, costliest, most intense, etc.) appears here, as well as current storm forecasts and analyses. The site also links to several storm models and scales, online tracking charts, and scads of other useful stuff.
The National Weather Service Hurricane Advisory site [http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hurricane/index./html] has global advisories. The site also hosts online preparedness guides; Atlantic and Pacific tracking charts; Atlantic and Pacific Hurricane names from 1999-2004; and links to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, Guam, and the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. This is perhaps the best site for Pacific Ocean storm information.
Tornado information is available at the Tornado Project [http://www.tornadoproject.com/], a private company that has been supplying tornado information since 1970. The site contains the usual array of factual and historical information, including a clickable U.S. map with extremely comprehensive, state-by-state information (including daily reports and predictions). Plans for coverage include historical data back to 1700, but this stage is not yet complete. Tornado Project also plans to add global information. Other features include information on storm shelters and survival.
The National Weather Service [http://www.nws.noaa.gov/] will give U.S. severe weather warnings and predictions. Additional features of this site include aviation forecasts, climate predictions, and solar predictions. This site is searchable. The National Weather Serviceís Interactive Weather Information Network [http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/iwin/graphicsversion/main.html] has a graphical interface (with text-only and enhanced graphic options) for global and national weather forecasts. Satellite maps and national warnings are also provided. This is a really neat site!
a commercial service, provides national and global weather reports, a
news center with reportage on global severe weather events, and some
unusual features, including travel reports (rain, fog, etc.), pollen
and mold spores counts, current dew points, and a UV
The Hydrologic Information Center [http://www.nws.noaa.gov/oh/hic/], a center located within the National Weather Service, provides a great deal of data regarding floods, both historic and current, including flood fatalities and flood damages for U.S. floods only. The site also covers current hydrologic conditions, including national flood summary (a daily report for the current month of all U.S. floods); real-time stream flow gages via the USGS; drought reports and predictions (U.S. only); soil moisture (includes a number of different indices for analysis and prediction); snow conditions (U.S. only); and water supply (U.S. river basins only).
Technological/Environmental Disasters: General
Earth Alert, CDC, and FEMA all have some coverage of technological disasters, but the following sites more detailed and specific coverage. This is a new area of disaster research and Web coverage reflects this. It is also a confusing area, since many of the topics overlap into broad subject areas beyond the scope of this review. For example, environmental crises are varied, complex, and political and deserve their own review. The same is true for several other related topics, including terrorism and biological terrorism and nuclear war/accidents/ waste. (The CDC Web site offers some coverage in this area ó a search for bioterrorism retrieved 106 documents.) I provide a few entry-level sites here, but this area of research is diverse and mammoth.
The United Nations
Environment Programme hosts a Web site called Earthwatch
that tracks current and predicted environmental crises. The site
covers news briefs, emerging problems, global observation strategies
and systems, and developing indicators for environmental health.
There is no search engine for this site, but there is a detailed
subject guide with links. Topics are broad and varied, anything from
global warming and air pollution to biotechnology.
Technological/Environmental Disasters: Specific
Accidents Involving Hazardous
The National Transportation Safety Board [http://www.ntsb.gov/] offers statistics and data (U.S. only) on accidents by all transportation modes (aviation, marine, highway, rail). Keep checking for information regarding pipelines and hazardous materials accidents. The sites had not been linked at the time of writing, but this was promised for the near future.
The Emergency Response
Notification System [http://www.epa.gov/ERNS/index.html],
maintained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
hosts a database of hazardous substance releases in the U.S. which
contains facts on types of spills, where spills occurred, etc.
Unfortunately the site currently charges for searches. For free, the
site offers ìHeadlinesî and Fact Sheetsî that
detail some of the worst spills, emissions, and accidents in
various time frames (e.g., 10 largest oil spills in 1999).
However, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) page (see
of the EPA does provide statistics for selected years on toxic
releases. These are often in compressed files and need to be
downloaded rather than viewed on the screen.
Nuclear disasters are potentially one of the deadliest disasters imaginable. Due to the political nature of these events, and the subjective definition of just what constitutes a disaster (e.g., Are nuclear tests disasters? Many women in Nevada with breast cancer would claim yes.), information for any but the largest accidents, such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, is difficult to come by. There is a list of fatal radiation accidents (1945-1987) at the following individual Web site ó Malikís Nuclear Page [http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Lab/5926/accident.htm], and a compilation of U.S. nuclear accidents by Allen Lutins, a senior archeologist with EcoScience, Inc., at http://www.nitehawk.com/alleycat/nukes.html. The CDC also has information on nuclear incidents and radiation. A search of the CDC site on ìnuclearî yielded 297 hits.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission [http://www.nrc.gov] sets U.S. policy. By searching its news releases and reports (of which there are several), one can find accident information, but perhaps more interesting are the ìDaily Events Reportsî found in the ìNuclear Reactorî area. These detail all daily accidents, no matter how small, in U.S. nuclear reactors. This area also lists (in appendix A) all the U.S. reactors with capacities and outputs.
The site also hosts policy and legal information up the wazoo, as well as providing information on radiation exposure and other health concerns. The Human Radiation Experiments Information Management System (HREX) is a searchable database with over 450,000 pages of historical documents related to experiments conducted at both government and non-government facilities, beginning in the 1940s. The documents come from the following agencies: Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Veteransí Affairs (VA), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The advance search mode features field searching.
On the global front, the International Atomic Energy Agency [http://www.iaea.or.at/worldatom/] site is primarily concerned with the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Here again there are numerous laws, policy documents, conventions, etc., many searchable. There is also information regarding safe disposal of nuclear material.
One unique feature of the
Web site is the Research Reactor Database, which allows one to search
the more than 260 of these ìresearchî reactors operating
around the globe, all for experimental and research purposes.
Searching is by country only. And while the site has information on
accident prevention, there does not seem to be much information on
historical accidents with the exception of Chernobyl.
The field of disaster relief, mitigation, and long-term recovery (development) is just beginning to experiment with the vast possibilities of the Internet. In the coming years the Net will become the preferred way of communication and disseminating information. I envision more inter-linking and collaboration. Privacy issues are, and will remain, a concern, particularly with regard to military involvement in complex emergencies. In fact there are already a number of private, password-guarded Web sites in this area, as well as sites on the military Internet.
I hope this overview
provides, if nothing else, some open doors into the voluminous amount
of information available online. I also hope it enhances, even a wee
bit, the readerís awareness of incidents that most of us are
involved in only superficially, and the enormous complexity and
dedication of the relief community.
Previous to his current
position at Western Washington University, Paul S. Piper was an
information specialist and Webmaster for The Center of Excellence in
Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance [http://coe.tamc.amedd.army.mil/]
in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Rights/International Humanitarian Law
The UNHCR site offers full-text searching of international human rights treaties and charters by a number of fields, including author/agency, country, subject, date, and mandate. Press releases and official statements pertaining to human rights are also databased and searchable on this site.
In addition to the ICRCís collection of International Humanitarian Law documents, Project Diana [http://diana.law.yale.edu/], sponsored by the Yale Law School, offers the largest online human rights legal information archive on the Web. The site is searchable by keyword (with Boolean capabilities) and finds documents from any of the Diana sites (Yale, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Toronto). Note that searching may be unavailable twice a week from 4:00 AM to approximately 5:30 AM EST, while the staff updates the database. Diana also offers a browsable thesaurus of subject headings.
Amnesty International [http://www.amnesty.org/index.html] also tracks human rights violations. Its Web site hosts a number of online documents, including the International Report, which reports human rights abuses, including those within the U.S.
ìLibraryî area, home to a number of other
reports (including archived International Reports and very
useful reports by country), is searchable. Amnesty
International is the only authoritative source that
consistently reports human rights violations in the U.S. and
the ìfree world.î The online reports date back
The WFP site offers information on past, current, and projected food aid needs and a weekly emergency report that details current crises. The Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping Project analyzes the vulnerability of target populations to food insecurity and capacity for coping with disaster, presenting the analyses in digital maps. Two drawbacks to this site: there is no search feature, and archives of some reports come in .zip format only.
The Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
hosts a database, FAOSTAT, that can be of use to researchers
in the humanitarian fields. FAOSTAT is an online and
multilingual database currently containing over 1 million
time-series records covering international statistics in the
following areas: production, trade, food aid shipments,
fertilizer and pesticides, land use, irrigation, forest
products, fishery products, population, agricultural
machinery. To search, select a country (or geographic
region), item of production, element (subject heading), and
year. Search result data is in table format.
Disasters spawn refugee populations, unsanitary living situations, the loss of shelter, extreme mental and physical distress, and so forth. WHO, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Doctors Without Borders, is one of the primary sources of medicine and human support in disaster situations. The WHO Web site yields a wealth of medical information relating to disaster victims, refugees, and victims of poverty and inadequate public health. ìHealth Topicsî offers the following breakdown of information: communicable/infectious diseases; tropical diseases; vaccine-preventable diseases; non-communicable diseases; environment and lifestyle; family and reproductive health; health policies; health statistics; and health systems.
Choosing ìCommunicable/Infectious Diseasesî and then ìMalaria,î one is offered the following plethora of choices: malaria prevention and control, lymphatic filariasis elimination, dracunculiasis eradication, Chagas disease elimination, African trypanosomiasis control, leishmaniasis control, schistosomiasis control, intestinal parasites control, Dengue and DHF control, healthmap, WHO pesticide evaluation scheme, and human resources. I know this is overkill, but I cannot overemphasize just how extensive and useful this site is!
Outbreak News is an online publication published yearly and archived back to 1996 on the Web. This publication contains brief, statistics-laden articles on major disease outbreaks. WHOís site also carries World Health Reports (1995-1999) full text. For user convenience disease and health indicator statistics are broken out from these reports.
WHOSIS, a collection of databases and information sources that provide information relating to almost any aspect of international health, is another very useful file. WHOIS also offers an electronic reference service called WHOIS Query Service.
While the novel Outbreak seems to have catapulted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [http://www.cdc.gov/] into national consciousness, the agency has actually been around since 1946 in some form or other. While primarily oriented towards U.S. health concerns, the CDC has recently served as consultant to a number of health agencies and governments worldwide. The CDC Web site is one of the more prestigious and authoritative with regards to medical information, particularly infectious disease, public health, and environmental health. This is also one of the few sites that deals with technological disasters, nuclear accidents, and biological and chemical agents used in complex emergencies and terrorist acts.
The CDC site includes information and links to 11 centers, institutes, and offices including the Epidemiology Program Office; the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; the National Center for Environmental Health; the National Center for Health Statistics; the National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention; the National Center for Infectious Diseases; the Office of Genetics and Disease Prevention; the Office of Global Health; and the Public Health Practice Program Office.
A quick breakdown of the site reveals current health news, fact sheets from Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (one of my favorite journal titles), traveler health news (a clickable world map detailing outbreaks and epidemics that could threaten travelers).
There are also two electronic journals on the site, the afore-mentioned MMWR, and Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal. Both of these journals are searchable online with a rudimentary search screen, and results are available full text in HTML and/or .pdf format.
The ìA-Z Health Topicsî is a vast resource providing an alphabetical listing of disease and health topics found on the CDC Web site. It is not yet a complete index of the site since new topics are continually added. Disease descriptions include clinical features, description and epidemiological features, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. This page is searchable.
The site also contains a data and statistics area that hosts a number of resources, including CDC WONDER (yet another CDC database that searches MMWR articles, prevention guidelines, and numeric data sets with requested data available for summarization and analysis); CDC staff contact information; the Hazardous Substance Release/Health Effects Database (HAZDAT) [http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/hazdat.html]; disease surveillance reports; and the Center for Health Statistics [http://www.cdc.gov/nchswww/]. Whew!
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) [http://www.paho.org/] site deals exclusively with health issues in the Americas. PAHO is an international public health agency with more than 90 years of experience and serves as the specialized organization for health of the Inter-American System. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.
PAHO is an exceptional source of public health information for the Americas, including an online .pdf version of Health in the Americas. Extensive country profiles are also available online for 45 member nations, including the U.S. These exceptionally detailed, data-rich reports cover not only health but socio-economic and political trends as well.
The PAHO Web site also hosts several online databases: ADOLEC ó adolescent health; Aging; PAHO/WHO collaborating centers; Health Legislation; PAHO online library catalogue; and SIMUS ó Regional Information System on Women, Health and Development. Complete descriptions of these databases appear on PAHOís site. The search interface is excellent and features online browsable indexes.
Online access to
the PAHO library creates an excellent resource for finding
little-known health publications and journals from South and
Central America. There is no site search engine, but PAHO
does provide a detailed site index. The site is available in
English and Spanish.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) [http://www.iom.int] is an intergovernmental organization that disseminates migration information. The IOM site houses a database of organizations and Web information that deal with the various issues of migration. This database is searchable by the following fields: type of organization, country, region, subject (trafficking in migrants; migrant rights; migration, population mobility and health; gender and migration; internally displaced persons (IDPs); migration and development; migration and environment; migration legislation; and migration statistics) and keyword.
Founded in 1958, the U.S. Committee for Refugees [http://www.refugees.org/] has been instrumental in worldwide refugee relief. The Worldwide Refugee Information area of the Web site provides detailed information and statistics on refugee situations worldwide. In addition, the site offers a unique database of specialists in various areas of disaster relief, called Expert Network, searchable with an Excite engine. Searching the word ìsanitationî yielded two hits, both experts in the field of sanitation in refugee populations. In searching the database one chooses ìwords describing a conceptî or ìkeywords.î The former retrieves related information in addition to exact hits.
Rescue Committee (IRC) [http://www.intrescom.org/]
was founded in 1933 and is involved in providing relief,
protection, and resettlement services for refugees and
victims of oppression or violent conflict. In its reports of
country operations the IRC provides historical
data/information about the conflict that resulted in the
refugee situation. Since the IRCís operations are
widespread, there is a great deal of information available.
This information is not searchable, but is available via a
clickable map and/or text buttons.
The search engine offers the choice of searching the main UNICEF site, national committee sites, or field sites. There is also information on childrenís rights, including an extensive bibliography.