Services for the disaster affected: Tracing and restoring family links

The separation of family members in natural disasters is a critical humanitarian concern. The scale of the problem can be understood when we consider large internal population movements such as seen in floods in China and India in 2002 with respectively twenty million and seven million people evacuated from their homes and livelihoods. Often the primary need of affected family members is to restore family links; this is usually more important to the individual than receiving relief assistance. This was evident in the Rwanda and Krajina (Croatia) large scale population movements.

Competent contingency planning will reduce the risk of separated families, or put in place pre-planned ways in which family members can be aware of the location and status of family members. In an increasingly ‘global village’ we may have many nationalities affected by a disaster, with distant family members desperate for news of family members. The Asian Tsunami, the Bali, Madrid and London terrorist bombings have made this restoring family links (RFL) situation increasingly apparent. Are our national societies equipped to manage the demands for tracing in such circumstances, as well as providing psychological support.

Unregistered migrants affected by disasters are often reticent to come forward for relief assistance, thus remain unrecorded and unrecognised. This presents a challenge to the Movement in how we manage family connections when persons affected by disaster fear for their lack of legal status, but remain highly vulnerable.

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