Predictable, Preventable: Best Practices for Addressing Interpersonal and Self-Directed Violence During and After Disasters
In our world, disasters continue to disrupt and damage landscapes and human lives. often in the aftermath, people unite spontaneously with compassion and generosity.
Despite personal trials, people of all ages volunteer to help those who are ailing, communities come together and countless acts of remarkable humanity take place. yet, as survivors regain their footing, seek shelter and livelihoods, and try to rebuild, they face many hurdles. Among these, but often unspoken and secret, is the devastation caused by the violence that can follow disasters. People’s safety and security become undermined not only by the disaster but also by violence in the forms of abuse, exploitation, harassment, discrimination and rejection from other survivors and those who are supposed to help.
Violence exists in each corner of the world — in low, medium and high income countries, in urban slums, school classrooms, behind the locked doors of homes and institutions and through technology — and it can boil to a peak in disasters. Again and again in disasters the risk of violence — people hurting other people, or people hurting themselves — intensifies as fragile protective systems become strained or even collapse, stress levels soar, and people engage in harmful or exploitive behaviour. Populations that already face the highest risks, such as children and women, become even more threatened. A woman is attacked at dusk as she seeks shelter in a crowded camp. A girl is forced to trade her body to feed her family. A boy is beaten, as others watch in silence, and then abandoned in a frightening and lonely environment. A gang steals from and threatens people in a shelter. A father loses his livelihood and unleashes his sense of shame and anger on his family. An elderly man’s despair leads him to take his own life. Stories like these are common in disasters; this is not acceptable.
Yet, for all the challenges, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is not without solutions. Violence, while complex and frustrating, is not inevitable. In fact, like the risk of other public health crises such as cholera, respiratory illnesses, measles, malaria and lack of nourishment that can escalate in disasters, violence can be contained, curbed and ultimately prevented. The ability of violence to thrive on ignorance, secrecy, denial and the chaos of disasters can be thwarted.
This report provides best practices to address violence during and after disasters and challenges us, as disaster responders, to respond to this problem in all of our work through early and proactive action, using a public health approach.
The International Federation has an essential role and many assets to tip the scales in favour of safety: our Fundamental Principles, dedicated local volunteers, networks of diverse partnerships including auxiliaries to government, a recognized role as leading disaster responders, and a history of facing down troublesome plagues to humanity. Now we must acknowledge the predictable and preventable problem of violence in disasters, accelerate our action, and influence others to also respond. Now is the time to translate this commitment from an aspiration into a reality.