Exposure and Vulnerability
Large-scale disasters are physically dangerous, highly stressful and economically devastating for communities and the people who inhabit them. The trauma and stress associated with the initial event, however, may persist through the immediate response phase and throughout a prolonged recovery. The impact of such catastrophic events is particularly challenging for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, medically fragile individuals, people with disabilities, and those living in poverty prior to the disaster. Pre-disaster conditions are often indicators of those who will be dis-proportionally affected and bear the brunt of a disaster’s impact.
Children are among the most vulnerable demographic. There are a number of reasons children may experience exposure to a disaster differently than adults. Children, particularly young children and infants, are entirely dependent on adults for protection and support. With regard to health care, children more susceptible to trauma and infectious diseases and may require specially trained health providers to manage medical concerns. The latter, pediatric medical specialists, are generally in very short supply in economically challenged communities. The mental health impacts of a child’s developing mind may manifest in ways that cause lasting trauma and can ultimately impact their life trajectory.
Children as Bellwethers
Child-serving institutions such as schools, child care centers, social service agencies and other similar service providers may lack adequate preparedness measures and resiliency to withstand an event and recover rapidly. The prolonged unavailability of schools is particularly problematic in a child’s, and ultimately a communities, recovery. Prolonged school absenteeism can have life-long academic achievement consequences for children. In addition, regular and predictable school attendance is part of the routine necessary to accelerate a “return to normalcy”, which is an essential element of disaster recovery for children and their families. Our research after Hurricane Katrina has shown that children are a community’s bellwethers of recovery, meaning that if children fare well after a disaster a community will as well, however, this is no easy task.
Our research at NCDP has shown in long-term studies of children affected by Hurricane Katrina and the BP Gulf oil spill, consequences of disasters can and do affect a child’s mental and physical health as well as academic performance.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria, have taken a tremendous toll on many territories and nations in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands both suffered hits from category 4-5 storms with unprecedented losses of lives, property and infrastructure. High poverty rates and fragile infrastructure pre-storms have exacerbated the consequences of the storms’ impact, particularly for the children who survived the initial impact of back-to-back disasters. Food insecurity, contaminated water, lack of access to routine medical care have been on-going challenges.
We believe that a return to normal or “new normal” conditions and routines for children indicates that recovery, generally, is proceeding accordingly. In this sense “recovery status for children in the aftermath of a major disaster is a bellwether for a community overall.”
Children’s Disaster Resiliency and Recovery Program (CDRR)
Representing the culmination years of disaster research and policy analysis, the CDRR will build on the deep experience and expertise of NCDP to help communities recover from large-scale disasters as rapidly as possible, focusing on re-establishing new normal conditions, resilient child-serving institutions and building adaptation and resiliency among children and families.
Here are some of the specific objectives of the CDRR program:
- Conduct rapid assessment of humanitarian needs of children in affected communities
- Assess functioning of key child-serving institutions
- Track how children are faring through the recovery process
- As funding permits, organize or provide direct resources and asset such as fixed site or direct health services, psychological first aid
- Provide specific recommendations for children’s needs during the humanitarian relief phase
- Convene community leaders and leaders of child-serving institutions to discuss planning for recovery of these institutions including health care facilities, schools, day care centers and other support agencies
- Assemble information and tools for relevant agencies and parents to protect children and integrate their needs during recovery
- Work with groups of parents and children to help manage stress and unanticipated challenges during recovery