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There has been an increase in the incidence and impact of both natural and human-induced disasters. Poverty always determines the relative severity of impact. Social workers’ skills and experience are very relevant for disaster work, including concern for human rights, protection of children and vulnerable people, and social inclusion of those affected. Psychosocial and community recovery interventions are needed. The needs of workers are often similar to those they are supporting and must be addressed. Cultural competence must inform program delivery.
- What Are Disasters?
- The Disaster Cycle
- Human Impact of Disasters
- Social Implications of Disasters
- Economic Implications of Disasters
- Political Implications of Disasters
- Social Work and Disasters
- Concern for Human Rights
- Populations at Risk – Protection of Children and Vulnerable People
- Values and Ethics – Social Inclusion
- Psychosocial Interventions
- Psychological First Aid
- Crisis Intervention
- Casualty Support
- Advocacy and Outreach
- Community Engagement
- Staff and Peer Support
- Cultural Implications
- Concluding Observations
Social workers’ skills and experience are highly relevant for multidisciplinary disaster work. Of particular significance are their understanding of human behavior, emphasis on ‘personin- environment,’ experience in community work and program planning, and recognition of the value of advocacy and social justice. With the apparent increase in and awareness of natural, technological, and human-induced disasters, the need for all social workers and other helping professionals to become aware of this work is increasing (Cronin and Ryan, 2010). The world social work community has recognized disaster response as a priority area for social work education and practice (International Federation of Social Workers et al., 2012).
What Are Disasters?
The term ‘disaster’ is variously defined by authors from different disciplines and humanitarian communities. The definitions all have political, ideological, cultural, and other biases. The more research is undertaken, the more definitions are devised. The United Nations defines disaster as “a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources” (UN, 2009: p. 9).
Disasters are often described as resulting from (1) exposure to a hazard, (2) preexisting conditions of vulnerability, and (3) insufficient capacity or measures to reduce or cope with the potential negative consequences (UNISDR, 2009: p. 9).
Disaster = hazard * exposure * vulnerability/manageability (Wisner, 2004).
The definition implies a sudden, overwhelming, and unforeseen event. At the community level, it can be a flood, fire, earthquake, loss of incomes, disease epidemic, or displacement through conflict. At the family level, a disaster could result in a major illness, death, economic, or social hardship. When occurring across a region, a large number of people can be affected.
Disasters can be categorized as either natural or human-induced occurrences. Natural disasters include weather phenomena (such as tropical storms, extreme cold or heat, high winds, drought), floods, avalanches, earthquakes, tsunamis, wild fires, landslides, and volcanic eruptions. Human-induced disasters include transportation incidents; industrial accidents; release of hazardous materials; building collapses; and extreme events such as famine, political conflict, and climate change. However, this distinction can be less clear-cut than it seems, with the severity of the impact of the disaster frequently contingent on human factors (e.g., socioeconomic status).
The Disaster Cycle
The characteristics of disaster work are often presented as a four-stage cycle: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery (National Governor’s Association, 1979). Each phase requires distinct tools, strategies, and resources. Social work can be involved at each stage by contributing to strategy and policy development as well as by direct work with individuals and local communities.
Mitigation: ‘the lessening or limitation of the adverse impacts of hazards and related disasters.’ Mitigation measures encompass engineering techniques and hazard-resistant construction as well as improved environmental policies and public awareness (UNISDR, 2009: p. 19). Mitigation involves steps to reduce vulnerability to disaster impacts, such as injuries and loss of life and property, and other efforts to make the community more resilient to catastrophic event, but the avoidance of emotional trauma and community disruption are also significant consequences.
Preparedness: “the knowledge and capacities developed by governments, professional response and recovery organizations, communities and individuals to anticipate, respond to and recover from the impacts of likely, imminent, or current hazard events or conditions” (UNISDR, 2009: p. 21). Preparedness focuses on understanding how a disaster might affect the community and how education, outreach, and training can build capacity to respond to and recover from a disaster. This may include engaging the business community and community groups and predisaster strategic planning.
Response: ‘the provision of emergency services and public assistance during or immediately after a disaster to save lives, reduce health impacts, ensure public safety, and meet the basic subsistence needs of the people affected.’ Disaster response or ‘disaster relief’ is predominantly focused on immediate and short-term needs (UNISDR, 2009: p. 24). Response addresses the immediate threats presented by the disaster, including saving lives, meeting humanitarian needs (food, shelter, clothing, public health, and safety), cleanup, damage assessment, and the start of resource distribution. As the response period progresses, focus shifts from immediate emergency issues to conducting repairs, restoring utilities, establishing operations for public services, and finishing the cleanup.
Disasters frequently reveal and exacerbate weak economic and social infrastructures and development, with significant gaps in organizational capacity, staff, and resources. For effective response and recovery, economic development agencies and stakeholders may need additional staff, capacity-building assistance, and social stability. This is illustrated in the contrast between the impact of the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, the former making a rapid recovery thanks to effective planning and developed public services, while the latter had very weak social infrastructures and ineffective planning and is still struggling after several years of international aid (Arbour et al., 2011).
Recovery: ‘the restoration and improvement of facilities, livelihoods, and living conditions of disaster-affected communities, including efforts to reduce disaster risk factors.’ The recovery task of rehabilitation and reconstruction begins soon after the initial response phase, and is ideally based on preexisting strategies and policies that facilitate institutional responsibilities for recovery action and enable public participation (UNISDR, 2009: p. 23).
The recovery phase of disaster can be broken into two periods. The short-term phase typically lasts from 6 to 12 months and involves delivering immediate services. The long-term phase, which can be decades long, requires thoughtful strategic planning and action to address more serious or permanent impacts of a disaster. Investment in social and economic development capacity building becomes essential to foster economic diversification, attain new resources, build new partnerships, and implement effective recovery strategies and tactics. Communities must access and deploy a range of public and private resources to enable long-term recovery.
Human Impact of Disasters
There is a strong interrelation between the severity of impact of disasters and poverty. Poorer people live in the most drought, flood, and extreme-weather prone regions and suffer most when catastrophe occurs (UNDP, 2012). Ninety-five percent of disaster fatalities occur in developing countries; the likelihood of death in a disaster is four times greater for people in lowest-income countries than those living in high-income countries (World Bank, 2001: p. 171). Disasters put hard-won development achievements at risk, reversing economic growth and progress toward the elimination of poverty, cause environmental damage, and result in human suffering. Disasters have killed more than 1.3 million people and affected an average of 220 million per year over the past two decades. In 2011, 106 million people were affected by floods, 60 million were affected by drought, mainly in the Horn of Africa, and almost 30 000 were killed. Disasters cost the world economy more than $380 billion in 2001 (UNDP, 2012).
Disasters have a differential impact on men and women, reflecting the distinct roles of the two sexes in political, economic, and social life (Pittaway et al., 2007; Zetter, 2012). In countries where gender discrimination is tolerated, women and girls are particularly vulnerable. Not only is the percentage of women and girls who die higher in these counties, but the incidence of gender-based violence – including rape, human trafficking, and domestic abuse – also increases exponentially during and after disasters. Most disasters place an undue burden on women and girls who are responsible for unpaid work such as providing care, water, and food for households (Zetter, 2012: p. 13). In the case of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, USA, most of those trapped were African-American women and their children, the poorest demographic group in that region (United Nations Development Program, 2010). Similarly, 32% of Nicaraguan farming households headed by females did not plant the following year, compared to 23% of male-headed farming households (Bradshaw, 2004: p. 26).
Social Implications of Disasters
On a long-term average, 184 deaths per day are recorded worldwide due to natural hazards. Most of these occur in countries that rank low on the Human Development Index (UNDP, 2011: p. 10). For every person killed, around 3000 more are affected (UNDP, 2011: p. 14) and become severely impoverished through the destruction of personal assets, damage to health and education infrastructure, and loss of drinking water and sanitation. If the disaster is compounded by casualties from HIV/AIDS or armed conflict, social and economic structures can be destabilized. Natural disasters in poorer countries frequently result in major migrations or population displacement with far-reaching social and political consequences.
‘Environmental refugee’ became a more frequently used term in the 1990s, referring to people forced to leave homes due to natural disasters or environmental reasons. However, environmental problems never appear in isolation; their interconnection with other emergencies resulting from social or political factors results in the great number of refugees (Zetter, 2012: p. 20). The United Nations Environment Program estimates that there are 22–24 million environmental refugees (Biermann, 2001: p. 24). Most of these migrants move between developing countries. For example, each year, thousands of inhabitants of Bangladesh go to India due to heavy flooding (p. 24), often starting a new life in surroundings that are completely unprepared to accommodate them or are inappropriate for settlement. Similarly, the large number of environmental refugees in the Horn of Africa is not primarily a consequence of drought, which affected 60 million, but due to weak governments, political and military conflicts between competing factions, the destruction of traditional coping mechanisms, and inadequate infrastructures, thus resulting in serious political destabilization across the region (Zetter, 2012: pp. 21–23).
The political, social, and economic challenges facing host countries in coping with these refugees are often unmanageable (Zetter, 2012: pp. 19–21). Extreme poverty can result from disaster-related migration because the refugees lack every kind of social service, including health care, schools, and access to safe drinking water. Traditional family structures, once an important form of support during crisis, are destroyed. Groups of citizens that previously were not considered poor can fall into poverty due to forced migration and the political management of refugees.
Economic Implications of Disasters
Over the last 50 years, the global cost of natural disasters has increased 14-fold, with weather-related and natural disasters accounting for two-thirds of all losses (Guha-Sapir et al., 2004: p. 13). Annual economic losses due to natural disasters in the last decade reached an estimated $55 billion, with a high percentage of losses in infrastructure (German Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ), 2001). While absolute levels of economic loss are greater in developed countries due to the far higher density and cost of infrastructure and production levels, less-developed countries suffer higher levels of relative loss when seen as the proportion of gross domestic product (UNDP, 2004: p. 20).
Developing countries are not only facing the potential of more frequent weather-related events. Rapid urbanization, the increased concentration of assets, environmental degradation, and other factors are also increasing the vulnerability of poor communities to disaster impacts. By 2025, roughly two-third of the world’s inhabitants and the vast majority of wealth will be concentrated in urban centers. Many of the world’s megacities (populations exceeding 10 million) are already situated in locations prone to major earthquakes and severe droughts, and along flood-prone coastlines, where the impacts of extreme climatic events and sea-level rises pose a greater risk of disasters. Today, more than half the global population resides in urban areas. Especially vulnerable to natural disasters are megacities like Jakarta, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Athens, Sao Paulo, and Mexico City (UNISDR, 2012). Urbanization in relatively smaller cities also increases risk – particularly in regions where infrastructures and institutions are ill equipped to cope with disasters. The vulnerability of this new generation of urbanites will become a defining theme of disaster risk in the coming decades (Zetter, 2012: p. 113).
Economic implications of disasters are conventionally categorized as direct, indirect, and secondary losses. Direct losses include loss of life and physical assets, damage to infrastructure, and loss of inventory and agricultural produce. Indirect losses include those caused by disruption of the flow of goods and services, like reduced opportunities for generating income. Examples of indirect costs include loss of earnings; unemployment; loss of productivity due to death, illness, and injuries; and increased public finance expenditure (Guha-Sapir et al., 2004: pp. 38–45).
The final category includes impact on macroeconomic variables such as economic growth, state budget levels, national indebtedness, and inflation. The secondary effects of disasters are important because these can have significant impact on long-term human economic development and social stability (International Debates, 2005).
Political Implications of Disasters
Disasters can evoke severe governance problems. The processes through which citizens articulate their interests and exercise their legal rights – an important aspect of the political dimension of disaster – can deteriorate, especially where political rights are poorly recognized. Inquiry into the economic aspect of governance reveals that financial decisions made during disaster and the reconstruction period have major implications for poverty and quality of life. Under time and financial pressures, politicians are likely to abandon carefully developed budget plans and overturn long-term development programs to release resources for immediate emergency aid. This money is often used for the recovery of one group at the expense of others. Economically poor groups with little access to decision making are likely to be left out. Gender and other fundamental social issues are often disregarded. The result can be the reaffirmation of existing inequalities (UNDP, 2004: p. 21).
Social Work and Disasters
Social work in the disaster process draws on methods and practice most of which are common to other members of the multidisciplinary team. These are described below. However, social work also contributes some distinct perspectives which, while not unique to social work, do have a particular emphasis arising from its core professional functions (Dominelli, 2010).
Concern for Human Rights
The response phase of disaster response is usually focused on meeting fundamental needs for safety, security, food, and shelter. In extreme situations the protection of life is the main concern. This can lead to expedient decisions under extreme pressure, which appear not to allow for consideration of other human rights, e.g., the right to family life, freedom from exploitation, and participation. Study of specific examples suggests that a lack of attention to human rights can result in unfair distribution of aid, exploitation of vulnerable people, and placing children and others at further risk (Klasing et al., 2011). Social workers have particular experience of situations where vulnerable people are at risk of losing their rights and of mediating in family and community situations where there are competing human rights (Banks and Nohr, 2011: Case 2.1). These skills are important both in the immediate response and as a foundation for recovery (Zetter, 2012: pp. 47–71).
Populations at Risk – Protection of Children and Vulnerable People
Social work training and experience includes a focus on those who are most vulnerable and/or in need of protection. Social workers offer particular perspectives on disaster response involving vulnerable groups. Within a community affected by disaster, people can be seen as suffering primary, secondary, or nondirect impacts. The primary group comprises those who have experienced direct physical, material, and personal losses from the disaster. The secondary group involves those who have witnessed the destruction of the disaster, but have not directly experienced the specific impact. The nondirect category refers to those who were not directly affected by the disaster, but who suffer distress and uncertainty over the safety and wellbeing of family and friends.
Among the categories of those affected by disaster are vulnerable populations of concern: poor people; older persons; persons with disabilities; people who are isolated, institutionalized, or otherwise at risk; and all exposed children. These populations may require special attention during preparedness, immediate relief, and recovery activities (Congress et al., 2010; Dominelli, 2012; Smith et al., 2012).
The risks faced by those in disaster situations have been recognized in operational guidelines published by the United Nations (Inter-Agency Standing Committee, 2007). Risks can include the trafficking of vulnerable women and orphaned children on the pretext of ‘rescuing’ them, thereby resulting in sexual exploitation, virtual or actual slavery, or illegal adoption. Well-meaning, short-term ‘rescue’ activities can also cause long-term damage, for example, by misinterpreting the significance of symptoms of ill-health or removing children without parental knowledge or consent or preventing the reunification of families (Zetter, 2012: pp. 68–70). Social workers bring experience of handling such dilemmas.
Values and Ethics – Social Inclusion
Humanitarian workers share a humanitarian ethos or value system, based on respecting individual integrity, recognizing community order, and promoting human rights (e.g., International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 1965; International Federation of Social Workers and International Association of Schools of Social Work, 2004). Social work places emphasis on self-determination and working ‘with’ people (rather than doing things to them). This approach encourages the active involvement (‘social inclusion’) of those involved in planning and deciding actions, something which UN agencies recognize has frequently been absent in the response to major disasters (Zervaas, 2007).
Psychosocial interventions are immediate and delivered by a range of professionals, including social workers, and other mental health professionals. Community referrals are made for those with long-term needs. Interventions are comparable in small or large disasters. The micro practice interventions fall into the following categories: psychological first aid (PFA), crisis intervention, assessment, casualty support, advocacy, outreach, and staff support (Cronin and Ryan, 2010).
Psychosocial and mental health support can be both preventative, decreasing the risk of developing mental health issues, and therapeutic, helping individuals and communities to overcome and deal with psychosocial problems resulting from the disaster.
Psychological First Aid
PFA is the cornerstone of support. The concept of PFA for individuals exposed to highly traumatic events has been used in the field of crisis and disaster management for years (Reyes, 2006). Similar to medical first aid, PFA involves providing immediate care, by attending to the biopsychosocial needs of those affected. It is practical and proactive and should not be confused with psychological assessment or treatment, only provided by trained mental health professionals.
PFA includes provision of basic care, comfort, and support during and in the immediate aftermath of disasters. It is designed for delivery by mental health and other disaster response workers who provide early assistance to affected communities.
PFA includes four broad goals: (1) to relieve physical and emotional suffering, (2) to improve short-term functioning, (3) to help course of recovery, and (4) to provide linkage to critical resources (Halpern and Tramontin, 2007: pp. 203–204). PFA helps stabilize persons in distress by ensuring safety and providing assistance in meeting simple needs.
Helping people to notify family members, making arrangements for child care, and contacting social service agencies for needed assistance can help stabilize individuals in crisis. Validating thoughts and feelings regarding their experience and promoting efficacy can support steps toward healing. Aiding clients in connecting to their natural support systems can be a critical intervention. For those without any supports, disaster mental health workers will either stay with the client or check in often to establish a sense of connection so the client does not feel isolated.
Clients are often desperate for information from authorities. They often ask questions such as when they can return, whether a loved one has been found or identified, or how to recover a pet that was left behind. The period of waiting for information can be agonizing, and although disaster mental health workers do not directly provide information that law enforcement and governmental agencies are responsible for, they do advocate for official briefing updates for clients.
Crisis intervention is the provision of emergency psychological care to victims to assist them in returning to an adaptive level of functioning and to prevent or mitigate the potential negative impact of psychological trauma (Everly and Mitchell, 1999). Crisis intervention procedures have evolved from studies of grieving conducted by Erich Lindemann (1994) in the aftermath of a nightclub fire.
An individual is perceived to be in crisis if he or she has experienced a meaningful and threatening event; if he or she has increased fear, tension, or confusion; and if usual coping mechanisms are not effective in alleviating the stress symptoms. Crisis intervention aims to moderate the emotional state and help the individual find adaptive solutions (Roberts, 2000). This is best exemplified when a worker helps a client to process and manage emotionality that is interfering with being able to engage in disaster recovery planning and activity. Crisis intervention techniques involve the quick establishment of rapport, functional assessment, psychoeducation on stress symptoms and coping strategies, problem solving, the development of an action plan, and referral for follow-up mental health treatment as needed.
Assessments play a critical role in determining what psychosocial or mental health interventions are needed. Before planning can begin, it is necessary to find out what has happened and how people have been affected. The goal of screening and assessment is to evaluate mental health functioning and identify the appropriate intervention or referral. The task is the usual informed assessment and decision making that one would make with any person – watching for symptoms, intervening as appropriate, and dealing with the most severe cases first (Cronin and Ryan, 2010). When large numbers of individuals are affected and only a limited number of responders are available, the ability to perform rapid triage becomes crucial. The greater the degree of exposure to the disaster or reaction intensity, the higher the priority for immediate disaster mental health contact.
For the majority of those affected by disaster, early assessment and intervention will be unnecessary. Studies have shown that, even in extreme disasters, the majority of people do not become incapable of functioning and usually make a full psychosocial recovery. Resilience and coping are probably the most common reactions seen following disaster (Ursano et al., 1996). For individuals experiencing symptoms beyond what is expected from extreme stress due to a disaster – such as psychosis, suicidal or homicidal ideation, or major depression – a promptmental health assessment and referral for immediate acute care is warranted.
All disaster work requires the act of compassionate presence, the ability to be present with those suffering, and to be of comfort without trying to fix or provide answers (Berliner et al., 2009). To stand with another human being experiencing their worst moments, so that they do not suffer alone, is a humble and sacred task. Providing compassionate presence is critical when mental health interventions include casualty support for the loved ones of victims missing or deceased or for those who have suffered serious physical injuries, along with their families.
While disaster mental health workers do not make death notifications, they may accompany law enforcement personnel or medical examiner or coroner for the purposes of providing support. Families and friends of those lost or feared lost in a disaster require special consideration. Mental health workers support these individuals in private areas, whenever possible. Compassionate presence while loved ones wait for confirmation of death creates an invaluable support system that continues as the mental health worker accompanies family to the death notification.
Advocacy and Outreach
Disaster mental health workers are often able to advocate for client needs at disaster service sites. Advocacy can include asking officials when the next client briefing will be, requesting specific meals for populations with dietary or religious restrictions, ensuring that the disaster response is culturally competent, and handling any special needs situations.
Disaster mental health workers also serve on outreach teams that access affected communities, going door-to-door to check on those who may not have been seen at service centers that open to meet the needs of individuals during disasters. Workers may also reach out to those in hospitals (Cronin and Ryan, 2010).
People usually share the experience of disasters with others who may be family, friends, or neighbors – or frequently strangers. It is necessary to respond to both individual and group needs in all four stages of a disaster. Effective programs and services integrate and address multiple levels, including community-level interventions, drawing on local coping strategies, and community resources (von Peter, 2009). For many people affected by disaster, being able to contribute to the recovery provides an immediate path to personal stability and resilience. Communities in less-developed regions are often self-sustaining; local economies and skills can be identified and reenergized. Those in more developed situations can use networking skills and community capacity to engage in recovery. Social workers can play a facilitating and supportive role, for example, identifying and strengthening community ‘leaders’ and helping those affected to develop recovery strategies.
Staff and Peer Support
Volunteers and staff are vulnerable to stress by virtue of their work and the circumstances in which they do it. Staff and volunteers are often poorly prepared for their own emotional reactions to providing care and relief to others. Volunteers may work long hours in challenging emergency environments, often putting aside their own needs. At the end of the day, they often feel inadequate to help beneficiaries with the tragedy they are facing. Additionally, as members of affected communities, staff and volunteers often work close to home and may experience the same losses and grief in their families and communities as the beneficiaries they are supporting. Basic first aid training or being part of a disaster response team is not enough to prepare volunteers for these experiences.
Most disaster workers experience mild, normal stress reactions. Several studies indicate that one out of every three disaster workers at some point experiences severe stress symptoms (Marmar et al., 1996; Gibson and Iwaniec, 2003; Fullerton et al., 2004; Reid et al., 2005; Young et al., 2007).
The well-known concept of stress was defined by Selye (1956) as the nonspecific response of the human body to any demand made upon it. Figley (1995) describes compassion stress as a natural outcome of knowing about trauma experienced by a client rather than as a pathological process. The symptoms of compassion stress can include helplessness, confusion, and isolation. When compassion stress is ongoing and severe it can become ‘compassion fatigue,’ defined as “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically, and emotionally, as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress” (Figley, 1995: p. 11).
Disaster mental health workers have a key role in maintaining a stable workforce during prolonged disaster operations. Staff and volunteers can be supported at key points to reduce the likelihood of developing stress-related problems. The primary intervention consists of good, solid information about the tasks at hand and about stress and coping with emotional reactions to difficult situations. Such information prepares helpers to detect their own reactions and offers options for self-care and peer support. Appraisal and recognition from others that they and their work are valued are essential.
The needs of volunteers and staff are often similar to the needs of those they are supporting. A supportive environment is a crucial factor in minimizing stress. This can be achieved by providing accessible guidance and support from managers and peers, by creating an organizational culture where people can talk openly and share problems without fearing consequences, by arranging regular meetings which bring all staff and/or volunteers together and foster a feeling of belonging to a team, and by respecting the principle of confidentiality so that people feel it is safe to talk about stress and seek help.
Peer support means offering assistance to someone at the same level as the supporter, enabling staff and volunteers to share their knowledge, perspectives, and experiences for the benefit of one another. The principles are generally the same as for PFA and supportive communication. There is evidence that an active, supportive approach to stressful situations facilitates successful coping. Allowing someone to talk about reactions and feelings facilitates coping and helps the individual to deal with stressful situations. The peer supporter provides support only and does not become a counselor. Peer supporters provide short-term assistance and do not replace professional help (IFRC-CPS, 2009: pp. 96–97).
Social workers deal with the psychosocial impact of a disaster on individuals, families, and communities. Humans respond to the stress of a disaster in a variety of ways, influenced by many factors: beliefs and religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, education, financial resources, communication experience among others. Some of those influences can be seen as cultural. Providing culturally competent services to those affected requires action before, during, and after a disaster. Creating culturally competent environments requires more than recruiting bilingual and bicultural workers, sponsoring diversity workshops, or hiring a ‘token’ racial or ethnic minority group representative (IFRC, 1994).
Culture is expressed through shared customs, values, social rules of behavior, rituals and traditions, and perceptions of human nature and natural events. Cultural competence must be a part of the program values, included in the program’s mission statement, and encouraged in attitudes, policies, and practices at every level (e.g., Dominelli, 1996; Weaver, 1999; Council of Europe, 2011).
To develop culturally competent programs and services, planners must assess and understand the community’s composition; identify culture-related needs of the community; be knowledgeable about formal and informal community institutions that can help meet diverse psychosocial needs; gather information from and establish working relationships with trusted organizations, service providers, and cultural group leaders; and anticipate and identify solutions to cultural problems that may arise (Myers, 1994).
There has been an increase in the incidence and impact of both natural and human-induced disasters. While more disasters and the highest financial costs are reported in the developed world, poverty always determines the relative severity of impact on individuals and communities. Investment in disaster preparedness has a social and economic benefit. Social workers’ skills and experience are very relevant for disaster work, including concern for human rights, protection of children and vulnerable people, and social inclusion of those affected. Psychosocial and community recovery interventions are needed. The impact of disasters on workers is usually significant; their needs are often similar to those they are supporting and must be addressed. The nature of the response must take account of local culture and local social systems. Social workers, by training and experience, are well placed to make a distinctive contribution at all stages of disaster work.
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