The importance of planning even before a disaster strikes is that it shapes how communities are prepared and guides post-disaster decisions and investments. In this article, we hope to aid you in understanding the significant factors that local government considers while devising a pre-disaster recovery plan for a community.
DISASTER AVERSION AND PREPAREDNESS
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Disaster prevention and mitigation refer to the actions undertaken to avert or alleviate the adverse consequences in the short and long term. It includes many activities that fall into political, legal, administrative, and infrastructural measures.
It is essential to educate vulnerable communities, i.e., those who are most likely to get devasted in case of an impending disaster, creating distinguishing lifestyle and behavior change to minimize their disaster risk.
The characteristic feature of disasters is that they strike suddenly, and by this virtue, we cannot see them coming. We may predict a disaster, but we cannot stop it in its tracks. The best way to go is to be prepared for it before it destroys everything we have.
The motto behind preparing for disasters is to avert and lessen the damage and losses caused by them. All civic bodies of administration and essential services like fire brigades, hospitals, police, etc., must be trained and prepared to deal with such calamities.
The efficiency, coping capacity, government stability, organization, quality of the concrete jungle, and preparedness of a society determine the impact a disaster will make on it. The complicated nature of calamities poses various life-altering challenges; population displacement is a significant one.
For instance, in countries like Haiti, Japan, Pakistan, Libya, Africa, and Syria, the number of displaced populations is incredible, credited to all of these reasons and more. Understanding the impacts caused by disasters and knowing what to be prepared for becomes extremely important.
Complete knowledge on social implications of disaster creates a base of contingency plans to lessen the occurrence of adverse outcomes due to them.
Pre-planning for a disaster considerably improves debris management and decreases expenses. The interagency approach in planning the development activities reflects a holistic strategy for disaster management and recovery.
- Identifying required equipment and its suppliers
- Identifying sites for collection and storage.
- An adequate method in place to segregate hazardous materials.
IMPACT OF DISASTERS ON THE SOCIETY
The socioeconomic impact of disasters can be felt across generations and over time. Humans have been able to learn from our mistakes about calamities like tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires and now have better approaches to deal with their possibilities.
It is still important to note that while preparing for a disaster may lower the number of casualties; it wouldn’t eradicate that number. Understanding the risks and their causes is vital in dealing with disasters. Depending on the degree of damage, the extent and magnitude of the disaster, it can take from days to months to recover. Communities take time to adapt to their changed social settings.
The community leaders need to assess the impact of disasters collectively on a community and arrange external aid as per need. Analyzing a disaster’s impact plays a crucial role in distinguishing those segments of society that have been affected gravely.
The primary stakeholders in such a scenario are those who’ve been affected and who have the advantage of the local knowledge and understanding of the soil they live on. Their experience can be very well channeled into the recovery of the community.
Natural disasters can prove to be extremely harmful to public utilities. Roads might be flooded, electric poles uprooted, infrastructure wrecked, and communication lines being broken. In such a scenario, it becomes challenging for first responders to reach you. You might get stuck at home with no electricity, little food and water supplies, and no way to communicate with anybody on the outside for several days or even weeks.
Like the domestic scenario, hospitals would be functioning with limited resources, and the patients might have to be transferred to other viable hospitals, which might be between cities. Schools are shut down for elongated periods due to the circumstances, and thus the education of children and livelihood of many are threatened.
When buildings collapse, people lose their sources of income. What’s worse, they get trapped beneath the rubble and face mortal danger. When homes are destroyed, people are forced to migrate and start afresh in a stranger city. The damage causes trauma that is physical, emotional, psychological, and financial all at once
Some social impacts present themselves over time, and thus it isn’t easy to evaluate them. They include socio-demographic, socioeconomic, psychosocial, and socio-political effects. Irrespective, the extent of damage done needs to be identified with utmost urgency; otherwise, the social fabric is threatened to tear unalterably, which might cause long-term disabilities to the affected households, communities, businesses, and society.
Psychologically, disasters tend to take a massive toll on people. They have to witness traumatic experiences that will give them goosebumps for a lifetime. They may see their family and friends getting devastated, homes getting crushed, and sustaining injuries themselves; they even undergo irreversible loss of possessions and property.
They have PTSD, have flashbacks and nightmares, and all this takes time to recover. Minorities in every country suffer the most since they do not have adequate resources to protect themselves in the first place.
Disaster displacement relates to conditions when a large segment of the population is compelled to leave their place of residence in the event of a disaster to evades its immediate and anticipated typical dangers. It falls under the category of the direct impact of any calamity. When their homes get destroyed, people are forced to move to foreign places, sometimes even cross international boundaries.
The term used for such people is ‘environmental refugees,’ which is relatively new given the increase in their number. This sudden migration causes dangerous strains in both their lives and the host country’s functioning. Slums are developed, resources are scarce, they don’t have access to primary healthcare, education, and hygiene. The largest continent, Asia, undergoes displacement regularly. Countries with the highest numbers in individual removal consist of Bangladesh, China, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
REACTION TO DISASTERS
Before calamity occurs, Planning and preparedness determine how society will respond to the disaster. But after the calamity strikes, rehabilitation and recovery planning is the determining factor in whether or not the community will stand back and find a new normal. The phases after the disaster have occurred are:
As soon as it strikes, the immediate reaction to the disaster is the beginning of the response phase. It encompasses both immediate response (relief) and medium-term response. The main objective that must be achieved in this phase is to re-establish the functionality of essential services and systems. People who’re trapped, lost, and unidentified or bodies that need to be extracted are all done as soon as possible.
The need of the hour is to ensure that people’s basic needs are met, those with severe injuries get medical help. The phase needs a sense of urgency and fast response to save the lives of those still possible. The stage lasts a few days, after which the focus shifts to supporting the survivors and rebuilding infrastructure—the relief phase of disaster transitions into the recovery phase.
This is a relatively slow, more stable, and systematic phase in response to a disaster—the affected population witnesses a period of transition and makeshift arrangements to get their basic needs met. The recovery phase is a relatively stable period of change for the affected population. They begin to resume their daily lives, coming back to their routine and activities. However, affected people may not have yet recovered entirely, but there is a “new normal” in the community.
This phase aims to achieve the long-term goals of the society by building permanent physical structures to replace all the temporary arrangements of the recovery phase into something concrete. Tents and trailers are converted to residential, commercial, and essential buildings. Social structures and other cultural aspects are looked into.
As permanent housing is being rebuilt, the social fabric of communities is strengthened. Means of education are revived; children return to schools; adults have renewed opportunities to improve their livelihoods and restore their family economies. Life can finally begin to feel stable once more.
Society has historically almost always been able to revive itself after a calamity. The mechanisms and methods of achieving this may differ across the world, but these phases are fundamental to every recovery road.
DISASTER DEBRIS MANAGEMENT
Disaster debris management is a concept of utilizing usable debris for productive use while disposing of the unusable part in an environmental-friendly way. The debris management process consists of the following key features:
1. Recognizing the type of debris.
2. Distinguishing its possible usage.
3. Planning efficient debris collection and processing
4. Phased implementation of debris collection and processing activities
The removal of debris becomes necessary to expedite the recovery process of the geographic region of disaster. In the long term, methods need to be innovated to ensure that wastes, construction, etc., do not pose a future threat to human and environmental health.
There are various kinds of debris after a disaster has occurred:
· non-toxic materials like construction residues (steel, wood, concrete), biodegradable stuff (trees, shrubs, soil), and general wastes (household belongings or trash),
· harmful solid and liquid waste streams, electronics appliances, industrial hazardous wastes.
· crushed but recyclable debris streams
· ash-laden, water-logged, or biologically or chemically contaminated wastes
By understanding the type of debris, authorities can lay out a suitable debris management plan that ensures that the waste gets cleared and that it is done sustainably.
SHELTER AND HOUSING
The shelter typically refers to temporary provision created with the help of partial building material for the people whose homes are rendered unhabitable and unsafe by disaster and conflicts. The primary objective of shelters is to ensure that individuals have the agency to set up temporary means of survival through small-scale inputs immediately after a disaster.
The more concrete and durable solution is permanent housing. Here, the primary motive is to bridge the gap between what the affected community lost versus what they have now. It acts as a safety net for displaced families. In both of these scenarios, however, the end goal is to serve the urgency of affected families to have necessities: a safe living space. While the shelter is a quick, ad-hoc short-term intervention, housing is more futuristic and stable.
After highlighting the significance of shelters in a post-calamitic scenario, it must also be noted that ensuring such shelters has been one of the most significant challenges for governments, humanitarian agencies, and, most important of all, survivors. Shelters are the primary source of security for the affected against diseases and the climate.
They include plastic sheets, tents, prefabricated units, public community buildings such as leisure centers, university halls of residence, worship, sports venues, and private rentals. Utmost and thorough research must choose the location of a shelter congregation, for the time duration when people will have to live there is unknown.
They must be able to access all aspects of a dignified life – education, livelihood, healthcare, religion, and leisure- in the shelter that has been provided; otherwise, it is no better than an open prison. The demographic wants and needs must be taken into consideration while designing said shelters.
Housing is essentially the step after shelters, wherein the state aims to provide a more long-term and permanent solution to the plight of those whose houses have been snatched by the disaster. The housing complexes have to be built in a safe and healthy environment to ensure that the residents have all the resources needed to move forward in their path of healing.
Within a disaster context, a more complex and comprehensive process is supported by expert engineers and architectures. It is often referred to as reconstruction or rehabilitation housing. The plan involves repairing and reconstructing damaged infrastructure that is viable or a brand-new construction of full / semi homes to provide sustenance to the affected.
In a way, housing is a result of all disaster rehabilitation activities. However, its attributes, such as design and materials, and function, vary from culture to culture. Thus, there is a need to integrate individual choices in the shelter building while collectively recognizing public health and livelihood access requirements. National and local Government policies, involvement of non-governmental agencies, dependence on the market mechanism, and various socio-demographic and socioeconomic factors shape this process.
As mere humans, it is not in our control how or when disasters strike. It is, however, our onus to ensure that it takes away significantly less of us every time it does. All forces, be it the military, national administration, local civic bodies, or your neighbors, have just one idea in mind when threatened with such situations: survival.
Those who are fortunate enough to achieve that must be treated in the society with sensitivity and consideration, for they have endured a lot and given every bit of support to recover. All the plans mentioned above, phases, and steps must be studied at length, both by authorities and individuals, to be better equipped.
Our ancestors have taught us; precaution is always better than cure. We hope to have highlighted that and taken it a few miles ahead by suggesting post-disaster measures for a more equitable society.