“By some miracle, the conservatory wasn’t badly damaged. The first thing we did was to clean it up. We put in a space heater, some nice furniture and cosy lightning. Then, amidst all the chaos, filth and uncertainty, we had a sanctuary. It was a place to be and for the neighbours to come together.”
So tells a Danish man whose community was completely flooded after a levee broke during a storm.
In 2013 British Red Cross asked 67 people who had experienced one or more severe flooding to sum up their experience in only three words. Worry, loss, shock, fear, lack, panic, stress, community, damage and despair were the ten most frequent words.
Floodwater destroys or damages most of what it gets into contact with. Most obviously, flash floods sweep property, infrastructure, and sometimes also people away. Floods soak homes and everything in them such as clothes, photo albums, floors, walls, furniture, toys, gardens, cars, and kitchen utensils. The water is dirty and smells. When it recedes it leaves silt or mud behind. Sometimes the water is mixed with sewage and is dangerous. Homes left wet even for shorter periods of time they can be infested with moulds, which cause harmful allergies. People affected by flooding often need to relocate for months while their homes are dried out and refurbished. Floods also damage or destroy common areas such as places of worship, schools, community halls, parks, or other recreational areas and shopping areas. These are places people normally go to meet, communicate or seek support.
The importance of community
The most important predictor of whether a person will recover well from a crisis is having a close and stable network of family, friends and community. But a crisis situation like a flooding can put severe strains on these networks. Families may be temporarily separated. Communities will be disrupted while the rebuilding is going on. Sometimes people move away for good. The psychosocial effects of flooding are long lasting and if left unattended can complicate recovery and rebuilding and can cause lasting harm to individuals, families and communities.
The man who opened up his conservatory to his friends and neighbours, offering them a comfortable place to rest, may not have realized at the time that he was providing psychosocial support to his community. He was just being neighbourly. And sometimes that's all it takes: people showing their friends and neighbours compassion and understanding. Rescue workers remembering to ask “How are you doing?” Neighbours looking in on the old widower down the street.
But when a whole community experience a flooding, “being neighbourly” is not always enough. Civil protection agencies, authorities, voluntary organisations, schools, sports clubs and religious organisations need to play a role to support individuals, families and communities to get back on their feet and enable them to meet future challenges better prepared.
Key actions for psychosocial support in flooding
Key Actions for Psychosocial Support in Flooding provides key actions on psychosocial support in flooding. It focuses on flooding of urban areas and on how to strengthen the resilience of urban communities. The material is very operational and helps prioritize actions and supports integrating psychosocial support in the overall response.
The material is modular. It is written to support the design of the best possible actions in a given crisis. Key actions are divided according to disaster phases and can be used as a reference tool in the middle of a crisis, to prepare and plan for community engagement for flooding, or both.
A separate toolbox contains the most relevant tools for psychosocial support in flooding. It consists of an overview of tools, followed by a detailed description of each of the tools.
(Photo: “FLOOD AFTERMATH” (CC BY-SA 2.0) BY THE BEANBLOG ON WWW.FLICKR.COM)