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Disaster and People Behavior Changes

Disasters have continuously occurred In the world causing adverse effects not only to the physical environment and the people affected physically by that disaster but also to the future generations of the place. These disasters, whether man-induced or natural have to lead to changes in the ecosystem. The Tsunami, the Katrina, the Haiti earthquake are just some of the modern disasters we have heard and experienced in this generation. They have caused great effects on the way people live.

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The recent earthquake in Haiti caused more than 30000 deaths in a short period. Many hazards are happening day after day and they will always be there. This paper researches the behavioral changes caused by disasters and natural hazards. Natural hazards are natural events of extraordinary impacts which occur in the service of the earth and cause harmful effects in the activities of men and the whole ecosystem.

Disasters have several impacts on the progression of human development. These impacts may be biological, ecological, environmental, socioeconomic, political, technological, and cultural. Though these effects may not be clearly defined, they are there and can be discovered after studying the trend in the behaviors of people from these places. (Breslau 216-222)

History has shown that man has always lived with disasters since the time of the great floods of Noah. It shows that every human being has to face at least one form of disaster once in his lifetime. The main impact of any disaster is the cause of terrible damages to the environment and in this case the living environment. Distant from these destructions, catastrophes will lead to dissimilar responses from man and above all; reorganization in the individual actions and conduct (Guha-Sapir 171-181).

There are different categories under these behavioral change patterns. There are behavioral changes that are manifested immediately in a bid to fly away from the danger zone and get saved. These are known as immediate responses or short-term responses which will involve flight, nausea, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure, and increased respiration rates. These are behaviors of the body that occur naturally without the power of the person. They are natural behaviors that save the person. Extreme use of prayer and thankfulness are also immediate responses in those people who have survived.

They promise God so many things and they will make some promises to God if they find their loved ones. Such people will also have difficulties in organizing themselves and making important decisions which they could make so easily before the disaster. They get confused and their emotions change completely. However, these are short-term responses and behaviors and may or may not continue for a long time. (Norris F)

There are also mid-term responses which will include changes in the way people live. A disaster comes with great moral lessons to those people who are affected either directly or indirectly by the disaster. Far above all, it creates new people who learn to cooperate in doing things. The forces of cooperation between victims are strengthened during the time of the tragedy as nobody can stand alone during such a hard time.

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Victims will assist one another in migration from the disaster-stricken zone, they will assist one another in caring for their friends who get injuries as a result of a disaster and even share the little food they have or get from humanitarian aids. This kind of cooperating behavior does not cease after the tragedy but continues in the lifetime of these victims. The Rwandese genocide victims learned this in their refugee camps due to the insufficiencies in the amounts of food in the camps, they learned to forgive one another and to share the little they had. This could take a long period because it’s a process of healing but at the end of the day, it will come to happen. (Robin et al)

Change in the perception of the people affected by the disaster is also another behavioral change. Some disasters are predictable and people are given prior warnings to flee the area of disaster before it occurs. This presents the people with “a fleet and stays dilemma”. Which involves a case where one is confused on which way to go, whether to stay on that part of the earth or fly away from the same place? If they leave the place and then the disaster occurs, then they will leave to be people who can listen and take instructions whenever they are given.

If by any chance they fail to hearken to the voice and continue to stay in the same places for fear of losing their ancestral homes and properties and then the disaster occurs, which may lead to the death of some people and destruction of the same property, then the survivors learn to be obedient and to listen to instructions as well. (Guha-Sapir 171-181)

Change in the culture of the victims which will eventually lead to the change in their behaviors is also noticed. Some people will return to the same place of disaster after it has ceased. These will continue with their cultures and practices. But what about those who do not return to their original homelands and those who fail to recover from the outcomes of the disaster? Research shows that these people remain vulnerable and there are new behaviors in them. (Breslau 216-222)

The mentality of the survivors will also change. The writers of ancient materials on the effects of disasters on people explain that disasters lead to deepened social uneasiness, fear, and eschatological beliefs. (Armageddon and the end of the world) The victims can recall that event for a long period and this is passed to the generations to come. Sigmund Freud says that those generations will live with trauma, “underlying catastrophic incidents continue to be suppressed by the sub-conscious human brain and creates neurotic symptoms and dire psychological effects.” (Sigmund Freud. 1913) the implication here is that behaviors of the victims may be affected due to the psychological effects of that trauma. This may result in people who are not friendly, schizophrenics, and other maladjustments. (Guha-Sapir 171-181)

The great losses encountered by these people like separation from their loved ones, loss of property, and the movement from their original homelands result in people who have a phobia for nearly everything. They will even fear the very small risks of human life. It also leads to mistrust. Such people who are recovering from the traumas caused by the disasters will never trust any stranger and they may be hard to deal with. They will also threaten to take away their lives any time and need a lot of psychological counseling to avoid such dangers. They will always have a feeling of hopelessness because great damages have occurred in their lives and therefore they don’t see anything good in their lives.

They will also show a great range of personality disorders and mental disorders. These behaviors are due to the trauma that came from the disaster and therefore to correct them since they are undesirable, they need a lot of attention from the mental physicians. Together with the above changes in behaviors, there will also be things like lack of sleep or increased sleep, problems in their concentration span and memory, revulsion, and nightmares. These are behaviors caused by the psychological effects on those people who face trauma due to disasters. (Guha-Sapir 171-181)

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Individuals will also tend to be very conscious of the protection of themselves and their families and friends and they will always haste to secure themselves in times of trouble. Research shows that people have the usual strength and drive. They become anxious and are seen to run everywhere searching for their friends and wanting to know who has survived and who has not survived. This leads to fretfulness, nervousness, and survival guilty which continues for a long time even after the disaster. (Breslau 216-222)

There are also changes in their socio-cultural and spiritual behaviors as a result of this. Family ties increase. This will result from the fact that the survivors discover the worth of family members after the tragedy. They discover how it would have been difficult to survive if they had lost their loved ones and they see how their friends who lose their members are in anguish. They, therefore, develop very strong family ties and attachments and they can not take for granted the fact that they have a family anymore. (Norris F)

There is a noted increase in religious activities among the survivors. Their spiritual and religious feelings are strengthened and their faith increases a great deal the survivors know for sure that the God they worship is strong and can deliver them from their troubles. Those who do not believe In God are influenced by their myths a great deal. They start to perform those traditions that they had started to forget and others start to believe that their gods must be annoyed. They then offer sacrifices to appease them according to their cultures. For example, many communities in Africa will offer sacrifices to their gods in times of drought to appease their gods. They believe very strongly that if they do that, the rain will come and they will harvest bounty harvests which will save them from the catastrophe. (Breslau 216-222)

Other behaviors that have not been discussed above include feelings of isolation. This may result from the fact that these people have undergone great changes in their lives and so they no longer feel the same again. They may have lost some friends in the disaster and so they find it hard to make other friends. The result here is a feeling of isolation that may continue long after the disaster. (Norris F)

Another common behavior after any disaster is an aspect of disaster preparedness in those people who were affected by the disaster. This will range from the government to the individual level. For example, since the time of the September 11 attacks, America and its people have engaged in strategies to prepare for future disasters. This is also a behavior change in the country and its population. Other countries have also engaged in the same behavior and this has been triggered or influenced by the occurrence of a disaster. (Norris F)

Recovering from a disaster is one of the most difficult times one will ever undergo. It comes with many changes in the way of life of the person affected and this may lead to a complete change in the behavior of the individual or the community in question. This paper has discussed some of the behavioral changes that occur due to the presence of a disaster. Some are short-term while others are long-term. Disaster victims should be handled with a lot of care and should be provided with traumatic counseling to ensure that they adjust to their normal way of life.

Works cited

Breslau N, Peterson E: “Traumatic events and post-traumatic stress disorder in an urban population of young adults”. Arch Gen Psychiatry 48:216-222, 1991.

Guha-Sapir D: “Rapid assessment of health needs in mass Emergencies: Review of current concepts and methods”. World Health Stat Ann: 43:171-81, 1989.

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Norris F: “Toward establishing a database for the perspective Study of traumatic Stress”. National Institute of Mental Health Workshop: Traumatic Stress: Defining Terms and Instruments, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, 1988.

Rubin C & Nahavandian M: “Details on frequency of disasters, Incidents for federally declared disasters, 1965-1985”. Program In Science, Technology, and Public Policy. Washington, DC, George Washington University,1987.

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