‘Organise mass prayers, spiritual discourses at disaster struck places’

Organise mass prayers and spiritual discourses in localities where disaster have struck. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) wants this suggestion to be part of disaster management interventions as it feels that emotional needs of survivors are often overlooked.

The NDMA has now come up with a draft Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for providing psychosocial support to disaster survivors as documented evidence from both India and other countries showed that the emotional needs were often overlooked.

“Effective and rapid Psychosocial Support and Mental Health Services (PSSMHS) response helps to reduce the stress and trauma of affected population and facilitates speedy recovery through normalising their lives,” the draft said adding timely psycho-social support will prevent development of long term psychosocial problems and hasten the recovery of survivors.

The draft SOP also calls for monitoring suicide attempts and conducting psychosocial mapping of vulnerable communities during disasters.

Emphasising on the need for focussing on “local, cultural, traditional values and practices” of victims, the draft said that there is a need to conduct recreational activities at relief camps keeping in mind the local cultural sensitivities.

“Encourage traditional community practices such as mass prayers, spiritual discourse etc”, it said. Organizations working in spiritual activities and programmes must be roped but care should be taken to avoid religion and conflict, the document said.

It also outlined the need for sensitising and training first responders and relief workers on psychosocial needs of vulnerable groups to provide priority care to vulnerable population like women, children, aged and disabled.

“Disasters cause devastating effect on the human life, usually leaving a trail of human agony including short and long term psychosocial trauma on the survivors,” the draft noted.

The rescue workers should facilitate re-union of separated family members and tracing missing relatives through specialised organizations and law agencies.

Another important point was about the way news about the death of relative is given to the family. The draft emphasises on the need for providing “grief counselling to widows and orphans” and there should be regular follow up.

“Psychosocial support and mental health services shall be arranged in relief camp set-up in the post disaster phase. Where large number of disaster victims had to be provided with psychosocial support, a referral system for long term treatment shall be followed,” it said.

The NDMA said its draft is not an exhaustive document and each state and department should frame their own SOP based on the local requirements, which suits their needs.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Nov 15, 2014)

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