We’ve all seen the pictures of devastation: ablaze forests advancing on homes, entire communities flattened with what remains in a muddy sludge, the destructive swath of a tornado. We’ve heard of the devastating effects of famine, drought, or flooding, forcing families from their homes and threatening hundreds if not thousands of lives. Some of us have lived through such disasters and have been left standing in the aftermath, wondering how to rebuild.
A disaster simply put is “a sudden event, such as an accident or a natural catastrophe, that causes great damage or loss of life” (Google Dictionary online). Human-instigated disasters are one form of disaster—such as fires, industrial or transportation accidents, oil spills, or deliberate attacks (bombings, raids, etc.). Natural disasters are the other main form of disaster; this includes earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, landslides, or volcanic eruptions.
Developing countries bear the most consequences of disasters, typically because of the poor infrastructure already present, lack of preparedness for disasters, and lack of resources. Asia has the most casualties due to natural disasters.
The results of these disasters can have far reaching effects, as they can lead to loss of life, injury and other health problems, property loss and damage, loss of jobs and public services, or change of landscape. Rebuilding in the aftermath of disaster can be an overwhelming task. Some decide never to return. Most communities are so devastated after a disaster that they no longer have the resources within themselves to rebuild and require outside assistance.
Surviving a disaster can be a traumatic experience—the fear of endangerment and the loss of home and familiar environment can be painful. The effects on a community, which perhaps keep it from running as normal, can shake a sense of security. For particularly traumatic disasters, survivor’s guilt or PTSD can be present. Children and youth experience the disorienting pain of disaster especially, and look to similarly stunned adults for support and guidance for how to manage and cope with the situation.
Long after the photos and videos of the disaster have disappeared from our news reports, those in the midst of disaster are still trying to rebuild their communities, their homes, and their lives and to work through the grief of what they have lost. We must be aware that depending on the community and the nature of the disaster, this process can take years—and meet that experience with compassion and sensitivity.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Have you, your family, or close friends experienced a disaster? What effect did it have physically, emotionally, psychologically—both at the time and now?
Do you think that human-induced disasters or natural disasters are more devastating and painful? Or do you think they are the same? Why?
Do you think that extended news footage of disaster scenes is helpful and appropriate? Or do you think it sensationalizes others’ pain and loss? What is the appropriate use of the media in times of disaster?
A key part in surviving disasters is planning ahead. Do you have disaster plans in place already? What can you and your family do to prepare for disasters before they occur?
Voltaire saw natural disasters as an evident proof against Theistic or Biblical belief in God. (Voltaire was a Deist). What do you think, and what would you share with someone who believes God does not care about what goes on in the world?
Disasters, both human-caused and natural, can be devastating events to individuals, families, and communities with far-reaching effects.
Families should take steps to be prepared before disaster strikes, with a plan of action already in place. This can help to limit the danger to your family and your possessions in the case of emergency. There is often little time to react when the disaster is already on its way. You can learn more about preparing for disasters at Ready.gov.
Going through a disaster can be a traumatic experience, particularly for children and youth. Parents, teachers, and community workers should be aware of this and take extra steps to ensure the emotional and psychological well-being of children and youth in the aftermath of disaster.