Thursday, May 28, 2015

Considerations for Humanitarian Psycho-social response to the Nepal earthquakes

By Joseph O. Prewitt Diaz, PhD


As the aftershocks continue in Nepal, humanitarian assistance has been steadily on-going. From Nepal Government Reports, UN reports, NGO’s and the Red Cross appeals all posted on internet or circulated through news reports and the social media. Thee reader can surmise two points: (1) The Nepal earthquake and the sequel have had devastating social, psycho-social, medical, and public health consequences. (2) The community mobilization activities among the directly and indirectly affected people have not sufficiently explored the growing needs for getting back to a normal pre-disaster life. We have not heard whether community mobilization, past the immediate response has explored post-disaster redefinition of place in terms of appreciation for life, psycho-social nature of relationships, and the deeper impact in spirituality and religious faith.


The nature of the disaster, the loss of place and collective histories , the lack of health care, uncertainty of well-being of family and friends, and  many aftershocks have surely resulted in increased levels of distress and fear. The resulting overt behavior expressed as distrust in the immediate response efforts from government and others, the disorganization of everyday community life, and the lack of information about the future have resulted in feelings of lack of safety and security. Neglect of marginalized groups such as the women, children, elderly, people with disabilities and other social outcasts increases psycho-social confusion and delayed disaster rehabilitation services.  

Accessing the impacted people

After assuring safety and security, developing activities that assure calmness are in order. Usually people feel calmness when they feel in control of their lives, and their place. Usually allowing affected people to share in a group about their historic environment leads to an enhanced awareness of sense of place and calmness. These focused group, community walks, and informal chats would cover three themes: what makes our place unique, what activities or features of our place lead to continuity, and how our place helps us achieve our goals. Finally develop a functional definition of what the community members understand as well-being (resilience). 

The beginning of a feeling of hope and looking at the future comes out of the answer to four questions:

(1)    What do we want? Usual response is to satisfy basic needs, and begin to articulate what the future looks like—reconstruct the school, the health post, and a recreation space. They may want to generate a happy place. No matter what the affected people list looks like, there are going to be some cultural and environmental projects. The affected people will have to identify the social capital available in their place. They identify their situation, and as they look at problem solving, they develop solution focused activities that culminate in well-being i.e. resilience.

(2)    What do we have?  The affected people identify the social capital available in their place, such as the number of people willing to work by skill sets, prior experience or private resources such as land or a water hole. Social capital interaction serves a different role: (1) brings together people with common interests and activities, and (2) identifies human spot where tension exists. Ultimately, social capital activities open a space for psycho-social support in the area of bonding or bridging activities, thus linking social capital with community mobilization.

(3)    How do we reshape our place? The affected people may actively engage in re-establishing their place and mobilizing human capital. How the affected people organize themselves to achieve their objective. Identify external stakeholders, develop a plan, visit with government officials, and engage others, such as faith based groups. Re-establishment of place provides the opportunity for the development of a stronger sense of place. The more people involved in place shaping activities the greater the social capital developed.

(4)    How do we know we have achieved well being-resilience? The affected people develop a set of objective with specific tasks, timeline, and person responsible. They will have a written vision of what the finished product looks like. Usually a trusted elderly person will keep a record of the number of people who worked, how many hours, what resources came from the community and which came from external stakeholders. The leadership of the place will organize information activities usually an evening meal   at intervals to inform people of the completion of task and celebrate their accomplishments, the relationship among the people, and the social mix that these activities have generated.

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