SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY – A NECESSITY FOR EFFECTIVE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT

Emergency Management is a highly complex problem and has diverse manifestations. It’s a phenomenon which affects people in different ways and is the result of social, cultural, economic and political factors.  The links need to be found for analyzing a better Emergency Management. All crisis does not give rise to emergencies and the radical changes does not mean that it’s in negative. A Change may not necessary lead to the fulfillment of ones goal. The vision of the policy makers should be to assist the vulnerable and poor people to bring about positive change and to support their capacity to withstand adverse changes that may affect their social and economic developments. The changes should be made after proper thinking as any changes for the vulnerable people or the communities may give rise to a crisis that may overpower their capacity to cope and is a call for Emergency. Crisis is not only about this unexpected catastrophe but also the sum-up of this slow build-up of political, social, economic and environmental factors.

Along with all these issues, there is a combination of unexpected incident such as Cyclone, Flood, Earthquake, Drought or any other type of major accidents, which would definitely add to these changes in a very negative way. Hence, it is critical that relief interventions should aim to address these issues which are the standing parameters for a crisis and which leads to Disasters. It’s this inequity and poverty, which make people more vulnerable to the effects of Natural and Industrial Hazards. Environmental Degradation, which in itself is often poverty related may aggravate such hazards. It is a well known fact that Natural Resources are divided into two categories.  One is the renewable and the other is the non-renewable sources of energy. Human Beings would never lack vital materials if he/she would adjust his population size and resource demands at or below the level that allows the biogeochemical cycles to operate in such a way that materials as well as organizations are “reassembled” as fast they are “dispersed”. The shift from “special interest conservation” to “total ecosystem conservation” is helping to establish the fact in the minds of the general public that Human Beings is a part of a complex environment which must be studied, treated and modified as a whole and not on the basis of isolated “projects”. Hence Human Beings should take cautions while tampering with the Environment with lakes to draining, fillings, dredging, pollutions, stabilizations, mosquito control, algae control and the planting of any fish, which are able to swim. It’s we humans, who constrict them with levees and dams and then flush them with dredging, channelizations and floods and silt of bad farming.

These types of willingness may arise from three fallacies in thought. First each of these tampering is regarded as a separate project because it is carried out by disconnected projects by a separate bureau or profession, and as expertly executed because its proponents are trained, each in his own narrow field. The public does not know or understand that the bureaus may cancel one another and that expertness can cancel understanding. Second there is a notion that any materials built by constructed mechanism are better than the Natural ones. Third, we perceive organic behavior only in those organizations which we have built.

Its thus we human turn wise to tolerate a hasty type of tinkering and make radical amendment to our biotic constitution for our short term benefits. This can lead to a revolt of Ecology and can be rightly termed as ‘Ecological Backlashes’ or ‘Ecological boomerangs’. Thus it is right to define ecological backlash as an unforeseen detrimental consequences of an environmental modification which cancels out the projected gain or as is too often the case, actually creates more problems than it solves.


When it happens, it is a double tragedy since not only is the amount spent in remaking the landscape lost to bad investment but additional sums must then be spent to correct all the new problems created. Hence it is not possible for any independent agency to intervene in a strategic fashion without understanding the dynamics of change, to which there are many inter-related contributory factors, the most important are:

I} Environmental Degradation:

A)     Long Term processes producing patterns of vulnerability, such as environmental degradation.

When the human population of an area is small, poor land use may affect only the people who are guilty of bad judgment. As the population increases however, everyone suffers when land is improperly used because everyone eventually pay for rehabilitation or is now too often the case, everyone suffers a permanent loss of resources. A small example is if grasslands in low regions are plowed up and planted to wheat (poor land use), a “dust bowl” or temporary desert will sooner or later be a result.  If the grass cover is maintained and moderately grazed (good land use), no dust bowl will likely develop. It is a general observance that good land use planning has come only after human has first destroyed or damaged a landscape. It is just as the saying goes that Human does not seem to understand a system which he did not build and therefore he seemingly must partially destroy and rebuild before use limitations are understood.

One such factor which is of concern is: the soil conservation profession has tended to “sit on its laurels” and is failing to move with the times. For example, too much effort is now being devoted to creating more farmland by channelizing streams, draining marshes, swamps and so on, at great public expense when nothing is being done to save existing farmland from destruction by ill planned urban development. In general, soil conservation needs to go beyond its present rather exclusive farm range or forestry orientation to the consideration of the urban-rural landscape complex where the most pressing problems now exist.

One solution to these problems may be:

i)                    Cluster development: A cluster development of residential housing around village or town centers with each unit separated by broad green belts.

ii)                   By retaining stream valleys, steep slopes, lakes, marshes, aquifer recharge areas and waste disposal areas free from houses, buildings, and other high density uses. Without such planning, there might be no open space, and which would lead to the same kind of urban blight, chronic pollution and social disorder that we now observe in older, unplanned cities.

Generally, the short term profits that can be made by exploiting urban land are so huge that it is difficult for people to foresee the socio-ecologic backlashes and overshoots that accompany uncontrolled growth.

With the increase in population, food supplies will reduce resulting in increasing prices. Although as little as one third of an acre can produce enough calories to sustain one person, the kind of quality diet we want – one that includes a lot of meat, fruit and leafy vegetables – requires about 1.5 acres per person (Odum).

In other words, the size and quality of the “environmental house” should be an important consideration and not the number of resources; we can relentlessly squeeze from the earth. A reasonable goal could be to stress on the fact that a third of all land could be under open space use. The dependence of a city on the countryside for all its vital resources (food, water, air and so on) and the dependence of the country on the city for economic resources must become so widely recognized that the present political confrontation that exits between the rural and urban populations is obliterated. Somehow, environmental sciences and natural disaster management must be merged.

B)      Contingent or proximate event producing reductions in resources or entitlements, such as a Natural Disaster viz drought

Here comes the concept of biotic communities. A biotic community is any assemblage of populations living in a prescribed area or physical habitat. It is an extent that it is has characteristics additional to its individual and population components and functions as a unit through coupled metabolic transformations. It is the living part of the eco-system as indicated in a statement.

Biotic Communities is and should remain a broad term which may be used to designate natural assemblages of various stages from the biota of a log to that of a vast forest or ocean.  Major communities are those which are of sufficient size and completeness of organization that they are relatively independent.

The community concept is important in the practice of ecology because it is seen that as the communities grows so is the growth of an organism. Thus often the best way to “control” a particular organism whether we wish to encourage or discourage it, is to modify the community, rather than to make a direct “attack” on the organism.  Let’s take an example; it is often observed that mosquitoes can often be controlled more efficiently and cheaply by modifying the entire aquatic community (it can be done by fluctuating the water level, for example) than by attempting to poison the organism. Lets take the example of “weeds” thrive under continual disturbance of the soil and the best way to control weeds along a road side, for example is to stop scarping and plowing up road shoulders and way sides and encourage the development of a stable vegetation in which the weeds can not compete.  Hence, human welfare similarly depends on the nature of the communities and ecosystems upon which HE/SHE superimposes his/her culture.

All these add to trauma of the residents, when there is a sudden Natural Disaster like Cyclones, Hurricanes, Earthquakes etc. Environmental Mitigation measures are the need of the hour.

II} Sustainable Livelihoods:

The real basis for assessing the appropriateness of any type of intervention is an understanding of livelihood systems and the strategies in which people are already engaged, the problems which they face and the ways in which they are adapting to changing environmental and economic conditions. The notion of “livelihood” systems” takes into account the wide range of people’s roles, activities, personal capacities and resources, which make up the way they make a living; and how these elements are related to each other.

Its here comes the concept of serving the poor profitability. These are the people who have great needs, but they can’t express their needs in a way which may matter to markets. Markets seem to avoid the needs as it doesn’t bring profit and hence poor always tends to remain poorer. It’s where Government and corporate houses comes into play and try to make a difference. But today Corporate Social Responsibility seemed to break that ‘tax free’ attitude and has come for the betterment of the World as more World Business Leaders tries to come forward with their aim to improve the smaller parts of the World where there presence is left.

Even if there are many allegations to the fact that CSR is for branding and bring a good image to the members of the public as well as to the stakeholders, but there are always positive things attached to it. CSR contributes for the betterment of atleast few marginalized sections of the Society. Well, in practical the number far exceeds our imagination. For example Mittal Steel at Kazakhstan owned and operated a Steel Plant and to make the place better Mittal Steel also renewed the tramways, the power plants, the hotels and the Stadiums and developed Social activities such as children’s camps. This was a need for the ordinary people for good infrastructure, good education. A dream of theirs filled by one Corporate through their CSR. That’s development. It’s all about helping the targeted communities and also doing Business. A win and win situation for both the community as well as the Corporate.

One practical approach as done by some American Corporate is to allow the Industry take a leadership role to the social problems and find the ways to a sustainable livelihood in even the remote parts of the Country. It would bring funds to run these social projects effectively. It’s like Industry houses searching ways to align self interest with the larger good of the society.  When business backs philanthropic initiatives with real corporate muscle and expertise, things can drastically improve at the remote areas of a country, since in addition to cash they are providing nonprofits with managerial advice, technological and communications support, and teams of employee volunteers and they are not just funding those initiatives not only for philanthropy budgets but also from business units such as marketing and human resources. In the process, corporate houses may like to form strategic alliances with non-profits and emerging as important partners in movements for social change while advancing their business goals. These are not short term goals but needs a planning for long term management of the issues, which are addressed above.

Hence the results may not show its flavor in the present as we still believe in our notion of giving relief to the persons who are in urgent needs, but surely would give dividends in the future. There are still millions, who don’t have nutritious food. They don’t have proper house to live in. The amazing innovations that we are proud of i.e. Computers, Good Food, Technologies etc generally passes by. They remain in the same place with no growth. Yet, when we talk about development and social reforms we talk of elevating the lives of those who are not so much fortunate.

This is the reason; we need successful interventions so that they contribute to long term impacts on poverty and well being. It’s when there is Social and Environmental Sustainability; we would move a step ahead in successful applications of Disaster Management Planning and Policies and in turn would move towards a Safer India for us as well as for our future generations.

Thanks a lot for reading.
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Please send your feedback in the e-mail address given below.
Thanks and Regards,
Mr. Mainak Majumdar
Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant
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Psychological Support In Disaster Management

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Disasters can happen anytime and at anyplace. Natural disasters are so frequent that one generally attributes it to fate. Sometimes the destructive forces of Nature become so strong that all our plans and policies fall like cards. We become helpless infront of the mighty Nature. When everything comes to an end, wherever one looks, the sight of the helpless victims fills our eyes. Children’s become orphans. Husbands lose their wives and vice-versa. The scenes are extremely painful. Lots of money in the form of grants flows for reconstruction. The obvious question that comes to ones mind is:

Is monetary help really meets their needs?

The answer will be in negative. Scenes horrendous in nature, fear, trauma and stress do engulf them. They are living dead.

The only solution to the problem is Psychological Support. In many projects a good psychological support program misses.

We have to explore those and that’s what humanity is all about.

Psychological support has become an important component of the disaster preparation and response repertoire. This occurred in the background of the need to understand mechanisms for the reduction of hazards related to disasters. The United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), 1990-99, was dedicated to promoting solutions to reduce risks from natural hazards (ISDR 2002). But it’s not always Natural Disasters that happens and leaves a scar in the minds of the people. It’s also man-made situations or accidents, which do lead to devastations. Now, it is recognized that riots, industrial accidents, acts of terrorism, internal displacement and insurgency are also roots cause for Psychological Trauma for the people. Though, these types of support are being carried out by different organizations, yet we have to do more. We need an effective trauma management throughout the World. Trauma includes major injury of all types — disasters, auto accidents, falls, industrial accidents, burns, shootings etc. Serious trauma is the leading killer of humans. Millions across the World are disabled and some permanently. If we look through the doors of history, we will find that by middle of 1970s, the growth and development of mental hospitals was the main approach for the provision of mental health services.

In India, several disasters took place. Among them is Bangalore circus tragedy (1981). It was a major disaster and the lessons learned were ‘High Emotional Stress and morbidity by survivors not addressed by health personnel’.

Bhopal Gas Leak disaster: (December 1984) where, physicians and other health personnel’s were not prepared to offer psychological support to the victims. Even till today, the horrible memories haunt them.

Orissa Cyclone was another example. Left over 10,000 dead. Approximately 15 million affected and displaced. Initial and two year surveys show high emotional stress present among survivors.

The Gujarat earthquake was another example. Over 20,000 people dead in acute phase and 100,000 with severe disabilities. Good health care, with no psychological support when many needed emotional care is the root cause of creation of secondary disasters.

Many lessons were learned but still remains a serious issue less addressed. When we talk of improved technologies; use of GIS and Remote Sensing, mitigation policies, construction and renovation, we seldom talk of this soft part of humanity, which makes us a Human. The response to any type of crisis should also include Psychological First Aid, Crisis Intervention, Defusing, Education and solution-focused counseling. Psychological support then must be framed within the existing and accepted methodologies of the continuum of disasters. Different types of trauma may affect the victims. There are different ways in which the response may affect the survivors.

These include:

i) Major elements of loss

ii) Exposure to bodies

iii) Degradation and Humiliation in cases of trauma motivated by racial or religious reasons

iv) Forced separation and relocation.

Depending upon the types of disasters, the survivor may assume different types of emotional roles:

i) The survivor assumes the role of victim and responds as victimized.

ii) The survivor assumes the role of victor and responds to the event in an active way that will foster problem-solving skills and learning and will make the person resilient after the event.

Now if we take the second point and move forward, we could surely able to make experts who have not only faced the crisis but also channel their experience towards better Psychological Support. The Psychological support program does not perceive the survivors as passive actors during an emergency or a disaster, but relies on the resourcefulness of the survivor and the capacity of individuals and communities to become resilient.

So, the ways to move forward are:

i) Pre-disaster Management:

Design and implement psychological first- aid training

ii) During the disaster: People’s response based on previous knowledge and level of coping

iii) Post Disaster: Assessment and treatment of Psychological Symptoms

iv) End Result: Reduce responses of distress and negative behavioral changes McFarlane (1995), who studied the relationship between training and preparation to post-disaster said that education about possible disaster experiences and how to deal with them, training through simulations and awareness of likely psychological reactions in both responders and survivors are very helpful. In general, the professional community would benefit from focusing on psychological support before, during and after a disaster.

Community people react differently before a disaster and after a disaster.

Pre-Disaster :

This is a period, when a community reacts in various ways. Members of the community may be anxious when a disaster is imminent, especially if they have not experienced one before and they may not respond adequately to the event. When a disaster cannot be predicted; let’s take the example of earthquakes or a volcanic eruptions, the community may become anxious and over-respond to the event, which may be detrimental to their well being. The common sources of anxiety include the threat to ones own life and the safety and well being of others, such as partners or children.

During a Disaster:

The impact of a disaster varies according to the type of disaster and the amount of warning that the survivors have had prior to the event. The roles of each variable affecting the survivors will predicate the emotional response. For example, threat, exposure, loss and dislocation will be determinants of a survivor’s patterns of adjustment. A person’s actions are geared to protection of the self and others, especially children, family members and those who are weak and helpless.

Here comes the effects of “altruism”, which is frequent and people will place their lives at risk to help others. Some people experience “shock”, especially when the disaster is unexpected, which adds their feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. Another common response is to be disorganized or stunned and people may not be able to respond appropriately to protect themselves and their families. Such disorganized behavior may extend in the post-disaster phase and so one may find people wandering aimlessly in the devastation. This reaction may reflect distortions in responses to severe disaster stressors and may indicate a level of dissociation. After a disaster, any people face complications.

The most important among them are:

a) Emotional reactions in the form of somatic complaints such as sleep disturbance

b) Indigestion

c) Fatigue

d) Social effects

e) Relationship or work difficulties

So, all these state the importance of psychological care in the case of disaster management. Psychological care is always required in such types of incidents. As (Garmezy, 1983) states that the ‘role of psychological care is to foster individual and community resilience. Individual resilience applies to the capacity to recover from a negative experience with renewed enthusiasm and an increased capacity to respond positively to a subsequent stressful event. The communities should be well trained so that a resilient community takes action to enhance the personal and collective capacity of its citizens and institutions to respond to, and influence the course of social and economic change.

Some factors which can help in positive outcomes are:

a) Recognizing and reinforcing people’s strengths

b) Providing clear and accurate information and education

c) Reinforcing supportive networks

d) Supporting and developing community strengths and process

Apart from these the Psychological Team should be able to give:

• Give practical assistance, information and emotional support.

• Respect traditional beliefs and customs and accommodate the family’s needs as far as possible.

• Provide counseling for the woman/family and allow for reflection on the event.

• Explain the problem to help reduce anxiety and guilt. Many women/families blame themselves for what has happened.

• Listen and express understanding and acceptance of the woman’s feelings. Nonverbal communication may speak louder than words: a squeeze of the hand or a look of concern can say an enormous amount.

• Repeat information several times and give written information, if possible. People experiencing an emergency will not remember much of what is said to them.

• Health care providers may feel anger, guilt, sorrow, pain and frustration in the face of obstetric emergencies that may lead them to avoid the woman/family. Showing emotion is not a weakness.

• Remember to care for staff who themselves may experience guilt, grief, confusion and other emotions.

If these issues are given importance, we can move one step ahead in creation of a Safer, Stronger, Greener and a Disaster Free World for us as well as for our future generations.

Thanks and Regards,

Mr. Mainak Majumdar

Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant

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