The mere mention of term disaster is likely to cause shrills of fear run down the spines of many people. This is predominantly due to the consequences that are associated with disasters. People affected by disasters go through extremely tough times, trying to come to terms with the effects. Indeed, areas that experience disasters can be likened to the grounds used by military combats while fighting. Consequently, the victims are likely to go through difficult post traumatic stress that is not easy to overcome. For that reason, governments and well wishers should always endeavor to come to their aid. On the other hand, such people should not continue brooding for a long time, but should instead pick up their broken pieces and go on with life. This notwithstanding, could there be any chance of disasters being of any benefit to the people affected? It has often been argued that, disasters are eye openers and that they caution people to be wary of likely future emergencies. The victims, in some situations, get an opportunity to rebuild and restructure their properties in a better manner. Nevertheless, disasters are known to cause more harm than good.
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Effects of Disasters
Conventionally, the term “disaster” has been used specifically to refer to a shocking accident, event or incident, (regardless of the cause) and usually leads to traumatic experiences. It is an unexpected occurrence that happens in one’s life and could be experienced both outwardly or inwardly, whose implications irretrievably affects one’s life, leaving him/her emotionally aggravated by disturbing memories with constant worries about the future. When a disaster strikes, many nations have been known to call for outside help. This however depends on the intensity of the damage incurred. (Lindell & Prater 2003).
Different analysts and authors use diverse approaches to categorize the impacts of a disaster. However, these effects are commonly categorized into three groups as follows; short-term effects, immediate effects and long- term effects. Short term effects of a disaster refer to the immediate loss and lasts for only a short time before complete recovery is achieved. However, it is also important to note that these effects are also directly and indirectly felt. The direct loses include, loss of property, destruction of infrastructure, destruction of business, loss of manpower, destruction of communication and displacement or dislocation. Indirect effects include the psychological trauma experienced by disaster victims.
However, depending on the intensity of the disasters, short-term effects could be extended to become immediate effects. Profits are reduced as most businesses fail to operate at that particular time. For instance, the September 9/11 terrorist attack in U.S was followed by an economic slowdown and so was the Katrina disaster. It is usually very tricky to separate the immediate effects from the short-term effects. This is because the time lapse in both cases is very minimal. However, these effects overlap from one stage to the other.
On the other hand, long-term effects include irreversible consequences. When a disaster strikes, people are usually exposed to health hazards. This may lead to permanent incapacitation or even death. These effects depend on their cause which could either be natural (e.g. Katrina), biological, geological (e.g. Haiti), technological (as in spills from chemicals) and Complicated emergencies such as wars. The susceptibility of a community depends on the level of urbanization, size of the population, environmental developments and climatic conditions. The long-term effects of a disaster are feared the worst, as they could paralyze a nation’s development and other life undertakings. Long-term effects also include economic as well as psychological consequences. Psychological impacts have been analyzed over time, and have been ascertained to be very severe. This means that, a great percentage of people who have been affected by disasters have reported serious symptoms of stress and other diagnosable psychological disorders. The common conditions include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, agitation, withdrawal and depression. Many people who survive devastating disasters experience unexplained and nonspecific distress, chronic sickness among other health complications. Other common diseases in disaster stricken areas include diarrhea, skin diseases, respiratory complications and vector borne diseases like malaria. When these effects are exacerbated, the productivity of the individuals is likely to go down. Those who suffer permanent injuries usually suffer worst traumas. Since the majority of people vulnerable to disasters are those who are active in life, the productivity of a nation is also likely to be affected.
According to research, disasters can completely paralyze the communication and transport system of a nation, among other necessary social infrastructure. This may put business to a halt, and thus increase the nation’s expenditure in catering for the circumstances, which could be in form of medical or reconstruction costs. Hurricanes and earthquakes are known to destroy numerous properties which could result to a long term economic turmoil. With many financial resources being destroyed, the gross domestic product of a nation is also likely to fall down. Efforts to rebuild an economy destroyed by such disasters are likely to last for a very long time and can strain a country’s resources, forcing it to over-rely on foreign aid.
In reality, disasters cause more harm than good. This is because; their negative consequences supersede the positive impacts. Basically, victims of disasters are usually adversely affected, and this impact could be felt long after the disaster. Psychosocial studies reveal that, the victims of any disaster are affected by the situation differently. At first, some may appear to be confused and may have impaired attention and emotional reactions such as grief depression. These effects are later magnified into abnormal behavior such as loss of sleep, drug abuse, appetite problems and spiritual superstitions. These signs are usually transitory although they can last for a longer time in some people.
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The socio-demographic loss in some areas can be unrecoverable. When structures such as health facilities and residential areas are destroyed, it may take a very long time to recover them. More often than not, individuals go through various stages of development before they can attain a decent standard of living. Business operational susceptibility is also usually very high in instances where there is no infrastructure. For instance, business managers have indicated that, very little work can be done in the absence of electricity, fuel energy and telephone communication.
Moreover, the political reactions following disastrous events can be very dangerous as they can escalate to humanitarian infringement of rights or crimes against humanity. People who have suffered a major disaster are usually very vulnerable, and any kind of social activism can result to political unrest. After the disaster, many victims tend to think that it is the right time for them to air out their grievances. Such reactions are usually fueled by the fact that the victims are exposed to a very poor quality of life as in the temporary housing. These houses could also be far from work, school and healthcare facilities causing more aggravation. This may eventually result into community conflicts. Since the victims are likely to have suffered serious property loss, they usually experience the problem of affordability of houses, shortage of food supply and inadequate space. Consequently, going through such conditions cannot be compared to the purported benefits of a disaster. Therefore, stating that disasters are beneficial to the people affected, is both uncouth and inhuman.
According to research, disaster victims go through a traumatizing experience, and their lives never remain the same again. Basically, the psychological impact is very hard to overcome. Even those who say that they have managed to get over a disaster never live their lives the same way they used to. Any type of disaster can be very traumatizing as they usually occur abruptly, when least expected. In addition, people lose lives and property. Although some people argue that the economic loss can be regained, this can only happen after a very long time. On the other hand, emotional trauma has an immense impact on individual victims of disaster, and is the major reason why disasters can and should not be regarded to be good, even with the little benefits that they may bring.
Lindell K. Michael and Prater S. Carla; Assessing Community Impacts of Natural Disasters. Natural Hazards Review. Pp 177 – 128: 2003.