It has been over three weeks now that for the state of Jammu & Kashmir, the very water that promotes life has become a curse. It was everywhere, destroying homes, belongings, savings, livelihoods, families and most importantly Faith . . . It is a long road to rehabilitation, one with many steep curves, but the most difficult part will be to rejuvenate what has been lost in a stroke of sheer bad luck . . . the capacity of the people of the state to feel confident about rebuilding what they have lost to the fury of the floods never witnessed in most lifetimes.
Everyone I meet is low, uncertain and unhappy. No one knows where to go, who to approach. It is almost as if a force has taken away their comprehension, the clarity to focus, concentrate or plan. It is easy to put it all on the Supreme Power to have caused a destruction of this magnitude, but difficult to understand what they did to deserve it.
It is not easy to define psycho social support as it cannot be measured in tangible terms, yet is one of the most important component of aid for people who have suffered disasters. In a time like this, it is not an optional extra; it is an obligation, a responsibility on the shoulders of the civil society. Responding to a disaster is not just about treating wounds or giving short-term relief; it is about healing the psychological scars of the people which if left untouched may escalate into various catastrophic situations. A hungry, angry, deprived, disgusted and frustrated population needs a balm to stand up on its feet once again. Addressing their trauma is as important as providing food, water, shelter and livelihood.
Psychosocial support helps people recover, after the disaster has disrupted their life. By improving psychosocial wellbeing of people, through many community based support interventions, social bonds within affected communities can be strengthened. The idea is to empower people to take care of themselves and each other which will in turn improve their self-confidence and confidence in the community bearing improved resources. This approach will further lead to improved resilience and to a positive recovery path. There is a need to strengthen the individual and the community fabric in a manner that it finds courage and ability to deal with every new challenge or similar crises.
The key issues for psychosocial programme intervention in the first six months post disasters are usually identified as Post Traumatic Stress and PTSD, Grief and loss and reduction of chaos and restoration of temporary order in the communities. From six months till the lapse of one to one and a half year interventions have to be aimed at relieving stress due to secondary issues, need for accurate information, conflicts in communities, and community mobilization in the context of sudden social disruption. The last and longest phase is from one and a half year till roughly five years post these ravaging floods in which development of individual resilience, reestablishment of stable community structure in the context of the disruption of the social structure of the community and development of state support and/or capacity for psychosocial support have to be the focus.
The key interventions in the first six months should be Psychological First Aid for the post traumatic stress and referrals for mental illness and social support through community teams aimed at providing basic needs, restoring community order, rejoining family members and restarting community functioning through temporary structures. These will bring the immediate restoration of order to the chaotic situation as well as immediate psychological relief to the affected individuals.
During the next one year, psychological First Aid should be continued to address psychological distress due to secondary stressors and referrals continued for the mentally ill (including PTSD). The changed social dynamics need to be assessed and compared with the pre-existing in order to plan the resilience building efforts. The volunteer network established in the first six months will have to be strengthened and used to provide social support measures appropriate to this phase such as information dissemination, community mobilization and conflict resolution. By the passage of this time frame, affected people will be keenly looking for information and conflicts are likely to break out between communities over resources. Focus should also be directed towards a smoother and quicker transition to a developmental mode. The later activities till roughly five years post disaster, need to build upon interventions done earlier and combine and consolidate the developments achieved. There will be a need for the establishment of a permanent community volunteer network for psychosocial support, advocacy on psychosocial support programming and continued disaster resilience building in the affected and vulnerable communities. This will help in the transition from recovery towards enhancement of disaster resilience and socioeconomic development.
Disasters have been happening worldwide and at the moment there seems no way of blocking their occurrences. The state of Jammu & Kashmir is disaster prone in many ways. The world has over time learned that it is crucial to strengthen psychosocial capacity globally to respond to natural disasters, conflicts and health-related issues. It is important to learn from these learnings and relate them to the state, to develop a safety web in the minds and hearts of people by emotionally supporting and reaching out to them so that the spell of this unfathomable disaster is quickly dispelled.