More can be done

campustrendzgirlsblackandwhiteAn article in another section of the media highlighting a tragedy which has changed the lives of the survivors, once more asks the question of what happens after the event no longer remains prominent in the media or on the agenda of call-in radio programmes. It suggests a view long held by responders that once the immediate needs of rescue and recovery has been completed, that the lives of the families of the victims does not return to normalcy; but in fact remains in a constant turmoil as emotional and financial coping mechanisms sometimes fail to bring closure or an end to the very personal pain and suffering of the victim’s families.

The occurrence of these events and many more like them occur almost every day across the world. At the time of the event it captures the attention of the world; which quickly fades, as their attention is later drawn to another similar high profile event somewhere else. However, what is the difference between Campus Trendz, Arch Cot, Joe’s River, Rockley Beach, Deacons Road, Haiti and Japan? Each event became headline news in the media. Some events warranted international response. However, all of them have left permanent painful reminders of how fragile humanity is; and how within the “blink of an eye”, lives can be lost and families traumatized for many years after such an event. For each event, injuries and death were significant factors at their occurrence; the quality of response and resource coordination were affected by location, access to the site and limited, if not, no warning of its occurrence …Let us look at some of those differences and where possible find some commonalities.

*Campus Trendz – A fire in a retail store claims the lives of employees and patrons. The fire was a deliberate act of criminal activity.

*Arch Cot – The roof of a cavern collapses, causing an apartment complex built on its roof to fall into the open space below.

*Joe’s River – The brakes of tour bus fails as it is going downhill, crashes into a wall killing and injuring many of its passengers.

*Rockley Beach – A swimmer gets into difficulty and after several attempts, tires and drowns. The body is found a few days later, miles from where the incident occurred.

*Deacons Road – At a construction site, a wall collapses and falls on a worker, the workers dies on the spot from the injuries.

*Haiti – a massive earthquake occurs, destroying nearly the capital and surrounding neighbourhoods, killing thousands, injuring many more and a subsequent Cholera epidemic takes the lives of many more.

*Japan – An earthquake followed by a major tsunami occurs, drowning thousands, wrecking havoc on a nuclear power plant, and forcing the shutdown of all other nuclear power facilities throughout Japan. Two years later contaminated water from the nuclear plant flows into the Pacific Ocean.

What do all of these tragedies have in common? Each event took lives and left many injured behind. Each event forced the response community and governments to examine how their capabilities were utilised and what could be done with improved efficiency, as the government and responders practiced and retrained, while waiting for the next tragedy to occur. Each event still lingers and impacts the families of the victims.

However the article also highlighted a very personal item that is experienced only by the families of the victims; and that is the fact that the response community waits for the next traumatic event, life for the families’ remains in turmoil, no matter what, temporary appearance of resolution is presented to the public. The article also suggested that in the opinion of the Arch Cot families, not much attention was being given to the survivors after-the-fact. The Arch Cot families commented saying that while Campus Trendz was as tragic as Arch Cot, it appeared as if Campus Trendz was continuing to receive more public mention than Arch Cot.

The same apparent indifference to much larger events also appear to be true. In Japan, officials have now decided to removed a commercial fishing trawler that the tsunami left over three kilometers from the ocean, now sitting in the middle of residential community; whose residents have been unofficially treating as a memorial to the victims claimed by the tsunami. The waste water from the nuclear plant, which has contaminated the ocean, is now threatening to wipe out an extremely fragile fishing industry still trying to recover from the tsunami.

In Haiti, cholera is a still a major health emergency, which an investigation said it had occurred as a result of pre-impact poor sanitation services which had been worsened by the earthquake. The investigation also said that the outbreak was also as a result of persons dumping human waste into rivers; which eventually contaminated Haiti’s already fragile potable water supply. Thousands died before effective public health controls could be activated.

Social scientists have been commenting on the claims of public indifference regarding the long term effects of these tragedies. It is being suggested by social scientists and disaster recovery administrators that with disasters occurring with increasing regularity, the unaffected sections of communities, who are sometimes forced to witness the unfolding tragedies by the world’s media, are becoming immune to emotional effects experienced by survivors. This opinion, supported by many responders and recovery administrators, also presents the view that unless a disaster directly affects an individual, that the majority of the unaffected population will continue to treat the long term personal tragedies of the victims as media sensationalism and not a true representation of how the majority of families cope with the effects of a disaster.

The Arch Cot event also serves to present another set of questions: who is responsible for the provision of long term financial recovery, social, and psychological counseling services often required by the victims, if comprehensive recovery and a personal return to social interaction is to occur? Is government responsible for such services? Should the population in the unaffected sections of the country collectively take on the responsibility of helping the affected residents return to social normalcy? What will happen if another tragedy impacts another section of the same country while it is attempting to manage its existing recovery operations?

The Haitian earthquake and cholera epidemic, and the Japanese tsunami nuclear contamination are perfect examples of cascading disaster scenarios occurring within days or weeks of each other. The response to a major fire destroying property and injuring dozens can be immediately affected if the hospital emergency burn treatment services are immediately impacted by a major power outage and the back-up electrical generator fails at the same time.

The issue that must also be addressed is what happens to the social continuity of a country while these events unfold? A question that we will look at next week.

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