What is disaster? By definition, it is “a serious disruption in the functioning of a community/society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts exceeding the ability of the affected community/society to cope using its own resources.” Experiencing a disaster even with relief and recovery, affects the emotional well-being of vulnerable survivors. Just like Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and the 2004 Tsunami, the Nepal earthquakes a little over one month ago are no exception.
After the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, killing over 8,000 people and leaving more than 250,000 homeless, the small Himalayan nation—among the some of the poorest in world—was left to pick up the pieces. And with little disaster infrastructure in place, groups of Nepalis and foreign aid workers, moved hastily to organize an internet-driven response. That effort is still ongoing. On Tuesday, May 12, another major earthquake (7.3 in magnitude) struck eastern Nepal near Mount Everest, leaving thousands more injured and reinforcing a state of fear and chaos across Nepal. Buildings collapsed, roads are blocked, and many of the more rural areas experienced deadly landslides, putting even more people in desperate need of shelter and assistance. The aftermath of this disaster has left many women and children in the streets, desperate for any means to survive. This has made the villages of Nepal much more vulnerable to traffickers. Nepal has since banned children from travelling without parents or approved guardians to ward off human traffickers who authorities fear are targeting vulnerable families amongst the devastation.
Disaster affects communities differently depending on:
• Quality of their infrastructure
• Quality and proximity of emergency services
• Ways in which authorities respond to community needs and organizational representatives
• Disasters disproportionally affect less advantaged people. Poor and marginalized communities are likely to suffer more severely than wealthier communities or those whose citizens are well-connected. Disproportionately affect physically, socially, economically, and politically vulnerable populations
Unfortunately, the human brain is not set up to cope with such abrupt loss in almost every aspect of life. Each social and economic loss has aspects that are psychological; causing broader social consequences. Some of these include:
• Losing loved ones
• Complicated grief and ambiguous loss
• Loss of material things/possessions
• Loss of community & historic continuity
• Loss of hopes and dreams/plans for the future
• Loss of Certainty and Consistency
Since disasters affect people across a broad spectrum, interventions should not be limited to the individual and must also address family, community, and social service systems. No matter how individualized a society is, disasters happen to all of its members simultaneously. Simply acknowledging the shared nature of the experience can help break down fear and isolation while supporting a sense of capacity, connection, and hope. As social workers, we’re given opportunities to provide services to victims of disaster by providing crisis intervention, counseling, resource linkage/referrals and other support services that not everyone is qualified to do. The role of a social worker is crucial in supporting a population’s ability to survive and thrive as they re-build their lives. By using a Biopsychosocial and Ecological Framework, social workers are able to practice interventions that preserve well-being, support psychosocial development, and facilitate reconstruction while addressing grieving and loss. They can provide access to temporary shelter, food, clothing, financial aid, housing assistance, psychoeducation, and emotional support.
Intervening at multiple levels is part of the historical mission of the profession, and it includes prevention through services at the organizational, community, and larger societal levels to improve individual wellbeing and to restore people and small groups to pre-disaster levels of social and psychological functioning. Most of the Earthquake relief efforts in Nepal are giving way to activities focused on rehabilitation projects that will ensure people are in more stable shelters where they can securely store belongings, including grains and other food items, and also escape the heavy monsoon rains. The devastation has left landslide remains, flooding and lost livestock.
As weeks have passed, the Nepali people are facing a number of overwhelming challenges. International development teams are working with in-country staff and partners to determine priorities and develop a long-term plan for providing restoration and support through established programs. At least 50 church buildings that were destroyed by the earthquakes have been identified and it has been estimated that each church building will cost about $10,000 to rebuild and/or repair. More than 50 homes need to be rebuilt each home will cost an average of $9,500 to rebuild/repair. The more remote communities outside the capital city of Kathmandu have been among the hardest hit; many of which have not yet been reached by aid teams. Several crisis relief teams are working on the ground in Nepal. Needless to say, they are determined to ensure that these people receive the assistance they need. Ganga Karki Jungu, a social worker in the village of Charikot, said the people were angry as “they have no roof and no food.” He said the government was failing to coordinate the distribution of relief material. ” Jungu was among a group of social workers and political activists who met Prime Minister Koirala to ask for urgent help. They have been trying to convince the government to work towards building permanent structures to provide housing on a large scale before the monsoon rains begin. In the last month throughout Nepal, social work students have been bringing their skills learned in the classroom out into the field. Kadambari Memorial College has put their academic calendar on hold and involved the students in rescue operations. Some of the students, along with other organizations recently returned from Sindhupalchowk, where 1,110 houses collapsed affecting 7,000 people, assisting them with obtaining medical attention and food supplies. Other students in Kathmandu are assisting children using trauma interventions.
Because of its magnitude, this disaster will require the continued coordination of public and private sector service providers in ways which require planning and procedures be developed in preparation for potential future disasters; prevention in conjunction with intervention. Services will need to continue to be delivered by a combination of professionals (doctors, nurses , social workers..etc.), volunteers, and those who are directly impacted by the disaster who utilize their skills to aid their neighbors. The damage is still widespread. Disaster relief efforts have focused primarily on providing temporary housing materials including tents, tarps, foam mattress rolls and ropes and other supplies to approximately 21,500 families in 12 districts. Members of local Self-Help Groups and Cooperatives played a key role in immediate relief support before government or other assistance arrived as well as ensuring distributions went smoothly and each family received some support. The Nepal Earthquake Relief and Recovery Fund has been a great way for people across the world to donate toward relief efforts in Nepal without having to leave home or work. During trying times like these, it is important to recognize the individual victories—children receiving hot meals, injuries being treated, families reuniting, a 3 month old baby’s survival despite devastating odds—being careful that we don’t give up and stop caring, exhausted by the overwhelming need.
Disaster planning should be incorporated into social development planning, and focus on reducing risk and increasing resilience. The mobilization of community groups and/or coalitions would continue to help coordinate service delivery, outreach counseling, provision of health services, and address the loss of social, environmental, and economic infrastructure. Ensuring that interventions are culturally appropriate and beneficial for vulnerable populations would increase effectiveness. A wider geographical area for service delivery in disaster response, an emphasis on the recruitment, training and retention of volunteers would also help aid us in future disaster relief.
You can help families in need of secure housing by donating to the Nepal Earthquake Relief and Recovery Fund.