Building social resilience

Earlier this year, the Caribbean Development Bank noted that it would be providing funding for a programme to increase social resilience to natural disasters.
“It is critical that a country’s response to any disaster includes a targeted psychosocial support and mental health component to rebuild individual and social resilience,” said Daniel Best, Director of Projects at the CDB.

“We have witnessed first-hand how feelings of anxiety and distress can result from the inability to tolerate and withstand environmental and social threats, and lead to behaviours, including substance abuse, child and spousal abuse and gender-based violence. This can potentially have a long-term debilitating impact on victims, and by extension, the development of Small Island Developing States,” he added.

It has meanwhile been noted that despite the high vulnerability of the Caribbean Region to natural disasters and the effect they can have on mental health and psychosocial well-being, social resilience is often overlooked in mitigation and rebuilding efforts. It was further acknowledged that addressing mental health and psychosocial support has become increasingly relevant for governments and humanitarian actors.

As such, the grant from the CDB was aimed at assisting the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) with enhancing regional capacity to provide this kind of support in disaster management, and achieve three primary objectives. One, to build regional capacity for mental health and psychosocial support in disaster management within the health sector, other agencies outside the health sector, and the broader community; two, to strengthen in-country competencies to conduct mental health and psychosocial support needs assessments, and develop or update action plans for such support in disaster management; and three, to develop and implement a Caribbean awareness and communication campaign in preparation for the 2018 hurricane season, to increase knowledge about, acceptance of and uptake of psychosocial support and mental health services.

Such a focus is indeed critical, as a number of disaster management officials have noted the need for personnel who work up front and centre assisting in relief efforts after the aftermath of a disaster, need mechanisms to be put in place, so they too can cope with the trauma they may face. A number of first responders, inclusive of military personnel and those working in the health field may be impacted by what they encounter, during the aftermath of any disaster. Then we also have those persons living in communities who have lost loved ones or friends during the disaster or even property. They too may be affected at a psychological level.

It is therefore great to hear that as the Caribbean prepares for possible impacts from the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season, the CDB and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) have embarked on a project to build resilience and psychosocial support across the Caribbean.

Reports are that earlier this month, mental health professionals from across the region attended a Training-of-Trainers workshop at PAHO’s offices in Barbados. The objective was to establish a roster of persons who can be mobilised to affected countries in the event of a natural disaster, to provide mental health and psychosocial support. In addition, participants were provided with the tools to conduct additional training in their home countries. Indeed, we are headed in the right direction, with these efforts to build and increase social resilience to natural disasters.

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