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Are we Prepared Enough?: Dealing with the Psychological Aftermath of Natural Calamities

Submitted by on April 16, 2016 – 10:04 PM One Comment

All over the world, people are facing a number of humanitarian crises which pose a threat to them and their quality of life. They live out their lives according to these drastic changes regardless of their wants and needs.One of those humanitarian crises is natural disaster —a force of nature creating devastating and disastrous effects.


It is not in the hand of humans to stop or to overcome this naturally occurring event, but as humans we can certainly prepare ourselves to cope with the problem and stop activities which may be harmful for the environment and therefore a cause of these events.


According to (Twig, 2007), ‘Natural disaster is the occurrence of an extreme hazardous event that impacts on communities, causing damage, disruption and casualties, leaving the affected communities unable to function normally without outside assistance.’


In addition, it is also defined in terms of ‘a physical agent and its impact, thus as a situation causing threat to life, injury, sudden destruction and loss of life and property,” (Mak & Nadelson). Natural disasters can occur in many different forms such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, hurricanes, windstorms, floods, drought and cyclones (Shaluf, 2007).


Different types of disasters have different impacts on human life, depending upon the severity of the event and upon the person experiencing this event. I myself have experienced a severe event of landsliding in Hunza. After experiencing and witnessing the said event, I questioned myself as to what the possible solution to the suffering and impact of disasters could be, especially for survivors with fewer coping resources.


Therefore, I chose this topic in an attempt to bring awareness and discuss coping strategies with the readers, which could be possible solutions to reduce suffering.Natural disasters are a worldwide issue affecting the mental and physical health of humans.


According to World Disaster Report (2012), a total of 364 natural disasters occurred worldwide. In developing countries like Pakistan, people have fewer resources and a lack of health care facilities because of which they would not be able to cope with such an adverse event.


Hence the impact of these disasters will be more severe among these people. In Pakistan, the flood in 2010 and the earthquake in 2005 are considered two of the worst events in history. According to World Disaster Report, 2012, the flood in 2010 due to monsoon rains affected millions of people and submerged a million acres of crop land , due to which survivors were unable to progress their lives and faced a very challenging situation.


Although natural disasters are naturally occurring events over which we have no control, there are some human activities which are harmful for the environment and can therefore contribute to natural disasters. For example, global warming increases the temperature of earth, resulting in glaciers melting and leading to natural disaster in the form of floods.


Besides this, air pollution and water pollution may be the cause of natural disasters such as storms and heat waves. A victim or survivor of natural disaster can suffer from many devastating consequences affecting his/her physical, mental and social life.


Before discussing the effects with the help of literature, I will share a real scenario regarding natural disaster and its impact on survivors. In my home-town, there is a small village called Ata-Abad. In 2010, there was a sudden landslide which caused great destruction; it blocked the Hunza River, and also blocked the Karakorum highway which was the main trade route between China and Pakistan.


Many houses were destroyed and people were displaced from that village and started living in tents. Some lost their lives, and many others were severely injured. Some lost their children and some lost their parents. The event itself ended but nonetheless left disastrous impacts for the survivors who are suffering from mental disorders even till now.


After exposure to that event, the survivors suffered physically and psychologically; they were fearful and in denial, they lost their houses, lost their properties and lost their loved ones due to which they ended up as victims of psychological symptoms like stress, post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders.


Along with mental health, their social life also suffered; mostly people were totally dependent on crop lands for their income, and so they lost their ways of earning. The economy of Pakistan was also affected due to loss of trade between China and Pakistan.


It was a tough time in the absence of any health facility. Even in emergency cases such as severe illness, there was no  option except to pray. This was one of the worse experiences of my life. Natural disasters have many adverse effects on people’s lives once they experience it, socially, physically and psychologically.


Social impacts include destruction of houses, schools, offices, roads and loss of trade, agriculture and properties. Physically they must deal with severe injuries, physical disabilities and even death, but the major and longest lasting impacts are psychological.


According to a research article (Jia et al, 2010), older people are more likely to manifest psychological effects of natural disasters (such as stress, anxiety, fear of worse event, depression and PTSD) because they may have a lot of prior stressers in their lives which undermine their coping skills. Increasing age leads to lesser cognitive abilities and fewer resources to cope.


After experiencing such a traumatic event, survivors become fearful and shocked. They start to show emotional signs such as grief, anxiety, stress, survivor’s guilt and depression. They may also develop sleep problems, loss of appetite and substance abuse.


These factors collectively force a survivor into a long-lasting impact in the form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in which the survivor repeatedly recalls the unpleasant event and experiences flashbacks and recurrent nightmares. This needs an emotion-focused coping, and should be treated as early as possible to prevent further complications (Lindell & Prater, 2003).


In my opinion, people who belong to poor families and have weak financial backgrounds are more affected by natural disasters, owing to less financial aid to manage such a challenging situation. In some cases they cannot even fulfill their basic needs.


They leave these psychological symptoms untreated due to which they later face more severe conditions. In our country, surrounding people also tend to make the situation worse for them by raising market prices for their own benefit without considering the suffering of others.


Effective coping strategies should be taken to overcome the devastating and long-lasting consequences of natural disasters. As health-care providers we can play an important role in overcoming psychological impacts; we can  provide emotional support, basic comfort to the survivors, and develop referral in case of severe injuries.


We can provide enough time for them to share their feelings and talk about their experience in order to reduce their stress and anxiety. There are also some forms of psychotherapy available to reduce psychological conditions like PTSD, stress and depression.


These therapies will be well-applied particularly on the elderly who are more vulnerable to psychological consequences. Firstly, cognitive therapy prompts a conversation between survivor and therapist. The main goal of this therapy is to change the survivor’s way of thinking, because mostly survivors start thinking negatively about themselves and about the event they have experienced.


After this therapy the survivor will start thinking positively. Secondly, exposure therapy exposes the servivor to real, unpleasant events in the same vein as the one he/she experienced before. The purpose of this therapy is to reduce their stress level and their fear of such events.


Along with these there must be some activities to improve cognitive skills such as problem solving, decision making, some relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, music and art therapy. These will collectively reduce stress levels and other mental impacts (Ehlers & Clark).


According to Everly et al (2008), we can overcome the consequences of natural disasters by implementing timely psychological interventions and providing support on the basis of priority basic needs (safety. shelter, health and food). This would not be possible without collaboration and coordination between the government and locals.


Local people should actively participate in government-level decision making, disaster preparation and preventive programs. Furthermore, there must be some non-governmental organizations to work side-by-side with the government to provide financial support to victims and support timely in emergency responses.


The government should take preventive and preparedness programs of disasters based on vulnerable groups like the elderly who are more vulnerable to impact, severe injuries, and should also provide financial aid on the basis of priority requirements of victims.


It is necessary to allocate funds for survivors and to make education and health-care facilities free of cost in affected areas. In conclusion, natural disaster is a humanitarian issue which hits people in social, physical and mental spheres of life.


We cannot completely stop this adverse event from occurring, but we can take effective measures to overcome the consequences. The most disastrous effects are psychological, which are long-lasting, and also include physical and social consequences in the form of of severe injuries, property damage and lost income.


This leaves them with very little coping resources. Besides this, our country as it is allows fewer coping resources so the survivors are more likely to suffer from psychological impact. Firstly, social and physical impacts should be lessened by providing financial support, so as to allow survivors to at least start coping with the situation.


Secondly emotional support should be given to the survivors to reduce their emotional suffering; different psychotherapies such as cognitive and exposure therapy should be applied to effectively overcome the psychological consequences.


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Jia, Zhaobao et al. ‘Are the Elderly More Vulnerable To Psychological Impact Of Natural Disaster? A Population-Based Survey Of Adult Survivors Of The 2008 Sichuan Earthquake’. BMC Public Health10.1 (2010): 172. Web.
Mak, Felice Lieh, and Carol C Nadelson. International Review Of Psychiatry. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1996. Print.
Mulvey, J.M. et al. ‘Profile Of Injuries Arising From The 2005 Kashmir Earthquake: The First 72H’. Injury 39.5 (2008): 554-560. Web.
Shaluf, Ibrahim Mohamed. ‘Disaster Types’. Disaster Prevention and Management 16.5 (2007): 704-717. Web.
Twigg, J. (2007). Tools for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction, Social Impact
Assessment. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Prevention Consortium. /mainstreaming
_tools (latest access June 2011).
Ehlers, Anke, and David Clark. ‘Early Psychological Interventions for Adult Survivors Of Trauma: A Review’. Biological Psychiatry 53.9 (2003): 817-826. Web.
‘World Disasters Report-2012 Disaster Data’. N.p., 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.
Beher, aurbindo. ‘Government – NGO Collaboration for Disaster Reduction and Response: The India (Orissa) Experience’. N.p., 2002. Web.
Lindell, Michael K., and Carla S. Prater. ‘Assessing Community Impacts Of Natural Disasters’. Natural Hazards Review 4.4 (2003): 176-185. Web.
Everly, George S. et al. ‘Mental Health Response to Disaster: Consensus Recommendations: Early Psychological Intervention Subcommittee (EPI), National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD)’. Aggression and Violent Behavior 13.6 (2008): 407-412. Web.



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JPMS Medical Blogs are published by the publisher of Journal of Pioneering Medical Sciences (JPMS). This article does not reflect the policies of JPMS or its Staff or Editorial nor does it intend to provide legal, financial or medical advice. Refer to Disclaimer and Policies section for more details.


Advertisement: Call for Papers for Journal of Pioneering Medical Sciences ( Submit Original Article, Review Article, Case Report, Letter to the Editor, News Article, Clinical Images, Perspectives or Elective Report to JPMS. We also publish Conference Proceedings and Conference Abstracts as Supplement. No paper submission or publication charges. Submit your articles online (click here) or send them as an Email to: [email protected]

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  • Shagufta Yousuf

    loved it! (y)