Recovering psychologically from a disaster can take years and requires people to feel in control of their lives again.
That was a key finding from reports into the psychological recovery of the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes and the reports are still very relevant today, says Sir Peter Gluckman, director of Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland.
He urged policymakers to support both the physical and psychological recovery of those affected.
In 2011, in his role as Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, he was asked by the Government to write a briefing paper The psychosocial consequences of the Canterbury earthquakes. In 2016, it was revised and re-released as a briefing paper The psychosocial consequences of the Kaikōura earthquakes.
The reports highlight the phases and prolonged nature of emotional responses to a disaster, which will vary according to the individual and their circumstance.
“The key finding was that recovery is not complete until agency has been restored to people and they feel in control of their lives again. And that can take years after physical recovery.”
He says the scale of the recent flooding and cyclone disasters will likely compound years of health concerns, disrupted education, business losses and economic challenges from Covid-19. He urged policymakers to give attention to both short-term and long-term social, educational, psychological, and economic recovery.
“Crises exacerbate inequalities and inequality makes people more vulnerable in and after a crisis.
“We need to reflect on whether this series of storms and floods interacts with the residua of that pandemic and whether it may make the psychological consequences for many people, more severe or more prolonged. There are reasons to think some will have become more psychologically vulnerable, while many show great resilience. A sense of community will be critical.
“The scale of the recent flooding and cyclone disasters compound years of health concerns, disrupted education, business losses and economic challenges. Some of the greatest storm damage is in areas of relative disadvantage. Policy makers will need to give attention to both short-term and long-term.
“There will be long periods of uncertainty for many, irrespective of short-term assistance. Questions abound such as can they rebuild on the land they own? Can their businesses and the local economy recover? Can their dreams and investment in their lives be recovered, and can their fears about the future be addressed?
“Those affected will progress through the cycles of emotions, as I discussed in 2011. These will challenge both local and central governments. It will not be easy, and we can expect fear, anger, frustration, and resignation to be exhibited over many months. Rebuilding psychological equilibrium will take longer than the physical recovery for many. We are in for a long haul.”
Sir Peter’s full statement on psychological recovery from disasters is available here.