Multi-pronged community level approach may erase psychological scars left by the Pandemic, feels Bishnupada Sethi
Any disaster evokes painful emotions in human beings and the degrees vary depending upon the severity, duration and exposure to the calamity.
The best disaster management practices adopt multi-dimensional, community based approaches to address the emotional needs of the affected population.
When a disaster strikes, there is thorough scrutiny of the situation and official response mechanism.
Often a surge in relief activities is seen. Visits by VVIPs lead to several announcements of assistance for the affected people.
Driven by altruistic motives, many NGOs, CBOs and individuals come to the aid of affected people.
The relief distribution is a very important aspect of disaster management, aimed at giving immediate assistance to the affected people for the loss of their assets and livelihood.
This phase lasts for about two to three months followed by the reconstruction phase which may continue up to three years depending upon the extent of damages.
Rebuilding of houses, livelihood like agriculture and livestock, infrastructure are time taking processes and hence do not get continued media attention.
The administration may have to sort out other priorities in the meantime. People complain about delays, discriminations and embezzlement.
Return to normal life is not easy due to disillusionment, and this impacts the mental health of the individual and the community.
People affected in a disaster face myriad problems for their survival which leads to depression, anxieties, sleeping disorders and post-traumatic stress. Can the disaster managers ignore these mental health issues?
Odisha super cyclone-1999 was a watershed as far as disaster management in the country is concerned.
Though the severity and impact were not unprecedented in the country, experts believed those could have been reduced if the preparations were optimal in terms of technological and economic progress of the country at that point of time.
However, many initiatives and experiments were undertaken for the first time in the country by the government in collaboration with many partners.
The cyclone had resulted in more than 10,000 human casualties with women and children becoming the worst sufferers. Millions of people were rendered homeless, struggling to stay alive.
For several days the worst affected ones remained confused, lonely and highly traumatised.
The disaster managers gave due attention to the widows and orphans to save them from trafficking.
They set up Mamata Gruhas, community homes to provide food, clothing, education, health services, and love & affection.
The volunteers took care of 44 such homes accommodating 801 orphans, 638 widows and 201 old people and facilitated a family integration process by identifying families, mainly the near and distant relatives, with whom the orphans and widows could be rehabilitated.
But for this unique community based initiatives, many vulnerable people wouldn’thave the opportunity to live a dignified life.
Any disaster affects the poorest of the poor in the severest way. Similarly, children, elderly people, differently-abled, migrant labourers, street vendors, homeless people need maximum attention.
Identifying and targeting the high risk people to address their psychological needs remain an all time challenge.
Government orders for lockdown on account of Covid-19 created extreme kind of disturbing emotions in people during the month of March 2020.
In urban areas, it led to panic-buying and stockpiling of medicines, portable oxygen cylinders, nebulisers, sanitizers, masks, food items, withdrawal of cash from bank amongst the well-educated and informed people.
They feared that nothing would be available in the market for months, and so played safe. Restrictions on physical movement, changes in life style, uncertainties, loss of job and income created a deep psychological scar in people unlike in any other disaster in the past.
A number of families suffered emotionally due to separation from their children, relatives staying outside, illness and fear.
An overdose of negative news and prospects of a gloomy future led to anxiety, insomnia, depression, fear of infection and death, exacerbating the traumatic experiences for the people.
Considering the many challenges disaster managers across the country take several measures such as designing and communicating appropriate social media and news contents to make the community confident and stress free.
Providing reliefs to the vulnerable population and enhancing wage earning opportunities keep raising the hopes and aspirations of the people.
A number of activities is initiated to build the community level solidarity at the Gram Panchayat and village levels.
Use of information technology for awareness building about the virus has led to reliance on the government source of information for action at all level.
Experts extend services to the needy people through help lines.
The older population, health workers, adults with pre-existing conditions, those living in precarious domestic situations are likely to feel the maximum stress and need due attention.
Different social settings are likely to put people on account of Covid-19 in varied mental health conditions.
Our leaderships are trying their best to remove any kind of stigma associated with the disease or any discrimination against any community to fight the side effects of the disease.
The community level workers and the front line government machineries are maximizing their efforts to connect people, keep them busy, engage in physical activities, and advocating a daily routine so that people lead a stress free life.
Availability of police helpline against domestic violence and for the assistance of elderly population is a noble initiative and a cherished one.
It is desirable to have socio-culturally appropriate processes and focussed interventions including organising religion specific death rituals to deal with the psychological stress as a part of disaster management.
As witnessed, different measures have been adopted in the country in the fight against Covid-19 to address the mental health needs of the affected people including Yoga and meditation, prayers, relaxation and spiritual interventions, online counselling, mental health clinics etc.whichneed documentation.
It will be beneficial if the disaster management authorities took proper steps to document the community based processes and programs and used those to train the relief workers community in order to mitigate the psychological issues.
*The author is Principal Secretary, Department of Revenue and Disaster management , Government of Odisha . The opinions expressed are personal.