PS Centre Annual Report 2016
62. Sixty two brave men and women; staff and volunteers of Syrian Arab Red Crescent have lost their lives saving the lives of others and bringing relief to the suffering since the conflict broke out in Syria in 2011 . And they were not the only ones. All over the world, being an aid worker has become increasingly dangerous. At the same time, there are now more people than ever in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Wars, conflicts, extreme poverty and impending famine is sending an unprecedented number of people onto the path of migration. Often the journeys are riddled with danger, and too many die or are hurt in the attempt to reach safety and a viable future. The hosting regions and countries often struggle to mobilize the resources needed to accommodate the refugees and migrants. Along the routes, in the refugee camps and hosting communities Red Cross Red Crescent staff and volunteers are ready to help and support.
Caring for volunteers and staff
Caring for staff and volunteers is high on the agenda for many National Societies. Being a volunteer, though immensely rewarding in many ways, is hard and comes with an extraordinary emotional toll. There is focus both on set-up of management structures to enable recruitment, capacity building, protecting and retaining volunteers and on making sure volunteers are supported emotionally after working in dire situations. This is particularly important in a time, when being a volunteer has become so dangerous in many parts of the world.
Supporting survivors of sexual and gender-based violence
With migration, during wars and armed conflicts and in the aftermath of disasters there is an increase in sexual and gender-based violence. Red Cross Red Crescent staff and volunteers often encounter survivors of violence. Many find it difficult knowing how to provide support, especially if the violence is of a sexual nature and even more so in contexts, where there are strong taboos and stigma surrounding this violence.
2016 showed a clear link between the refugee situation in Europe and MENA, and an increased interest from the National Societies to improve the ability to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
High prevalence of mental health problems among refugee populations
Fleeing from war and violence to a safe place does not always mean safety for a refugee or displaced person. Living in camps exposes women and children to high risks of sexual and gender based violence. Squalid living conditions, inadequate access to healthcare and food endangers the physical health of many refugees across the world. Living as refugees with little prospect of returning home and uncertainty of the future in the host country takes an enormous toll on the mental health of refugees. The prevalence of mental health disorders in refugee populations is much higher than in non-refugee populations. Studies show that 30 to 40 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Sweden suffer from major depression. As a comparison, it has been estimated that approximately 7% of the European population suffers from major depression.
Another type of crisis emerged in early 2016: The Zika virus. This new crisis also presented a new challenge: an emergency like no other. It is not linked to any major disastrous event. There is no large death toll. No violent conflict. No rampantly infectious disease. Instead, there are many major emergencies for individual families. There are long term impacts that will remain acute for a generation, affecting both families and communities. And the psychosocial support provided must reflect these conditions by finding ways to be present for many years, by working on anti-stigmatization, the rights of people with disabilities; inclusion as well as providing more traditional community-based psychosocial support.
2016 was not characterised by large, spectacular natural disasters with massive international responses. But that does not mean that nature did not demonstrate its powers. Climate changes are causing more extreme weather, and more and more people experience flooding, hurricanes, droughts, severe heat waves or cold spells. Sometimes the outcome is deadly, but more often the outcome is extensive damage or loss of property, homes and of feelings of safety. Living in a disaster prone area is often highly stressful. People who have lost home and property to severe flooding report anxiety. Children who have seen typhoons ravage a coastline may be afraid of the wind when it rains.
Psychosocial support in urban areas
With 54% of the world’s population residing in urban areas in 2014 the urban population outnumbers the rural. Providing psychosocial support in urban areas has its own challenges. The sense of community in urban areas is often more fragmented than in rural areas. People may belong to various social networks and communities defined by shared interests, hobbies, beliefs and professions, but rarely defined by a specific local area. But disaster often affects a specific area. This means that social networks and communities will not automatically respond to a disaster or understand the specific need for support. Creating or knowing how to trigger a sense of community within a geographically defined disaster prone area becomes an important part of psychosocial support disaster preparedness.
To learn more about the work of the PS Centre and National Societies providing psychosocial support in 2016, please read the 2016 PS Centre Annual Report