IFRC: Post-disaster psychosocial support an obligation, not an option

Publié: 21 juillet 2009 0:00 CET

Jean-Luc Martinage, IFRC communications and advocacy officer, global health

Responding to a disaster is not just about treating physical injuries - it is also about healing psychological wounds. That’s why the Red Cross Red Crescent develops techniques to address such trauma alongside its traditional crisis recovery programmes such as providing first aid, food and shelter.

This approach is led by the Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support, which was established in Copenhagen, Denmark, by the Danish Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the early 90s.

The centre has released two new publications - a handbook on psychosocial intervention and a community-based psychosocial support trainer’s kit – that will help National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies worldwide provide a better service to vulnerable people following a disaster or crisis.

Lessons learned

“The handbook provides guidance on how to plan and implement psychosocial interventions,” explains the centre’s head, Nana Wiedemann. “The practices outlined are derived from lessons learned after the 2004 tsunami, and were made possible through the allocation of resources from the American Red Cross. It is a useful resource for psychosocial practitioners worldwide.”

The handbook provides useful information on what psychosocial support exactly is, what kind of assessments are made after a disaster, who is involved in the response and who are the main beneficiaries. It also refers to training practices as well as monitoring and evaluation.

The training kit is part of the centre’s efforts to build the capacities of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies as well as boost the skills and effectiveness of staff and volunteers. The centre does not intervene directly with affected people, but instead helps Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to do so through their local staff and volunteers and encourages the creation of regional and local psychosocial support networks.

Strengthening social bonds

Psychosocial support helps people recover after a crisis has disrupted their lives. The Red Cross Red Crescent, through its community-based psychosocial support interventions, helps to strengthen the social bonds of people in affected communities by improving their psychosocial well-being.

This approach is based on the idea that if people are empowered to care for themselves and each other, their individual and common self-confidence and resources will improve. This, in return, will encourage resilience, positive recovery and strengthen the ability to deal with future challenges.

Deeply affected

The handbook provides several examples of best practices, including the response to the Beslan school hostage crisis. On 1 September 2004, more than 1,100 children, parents and teachers were taken hostage in Beslan, in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, Russian Federation. A total of 334 people lost their lives, including 186 children. The whole population of Beslan was deeply affected by the tragic ending.

The Russian Red Cross Society responded with a psychosocial programme with two main components. The first consisted of home visits to affected families by nurses, initially providing psychological first aid, and subsequently offering on-going emotional support. A community centre, the second component, was established as the hub of the psychosocial programme, serving as the base for the visiting-nurse service, and also as a venue for psychosocial support social and practical activities.

An evaluation of the programme in 2007 showed that the Red Cross community centre had served as an important mechanism in restoring social ties and cultural values of the affected population.

“In a time of crisis, psychosocial support is not an optional extra, it is an obligation;” explains Nana Wiedemann. “Over time, we have learned that it is crucial to strengthen psychosocial capacity globally to respond to natural disasters, conflicts and health-related issues. The handbook and training kit will be useful tools for the Red Cross Red Crescent, as well as for other stakeholders in the field of psychosocial support.”

For more information on the Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support to download the new publications, or see the film Rebuilding hope, visit: www.ifrc.org/psychosocial.