Costa Rican Project Develops Psychosocial Capacities to Face Disasters and Emergencies

    Climate change and inequality are the factors that increase and deepen the number and impact of natural disaster events

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    According to the United Nations, climate change is linked to 75% of extreme weather events;  91% of all deaths from meteorological hazards between 1970 and 2019 occurred in developing countries and it is expected that by 2030, there will be about 1.5 disasters of significant magnitude per day.

     In this sense, the University of Costa Rica (UCR) with the project Management for risk reduction in threatened communities in the country, works with communities that suffer the onslaught of disasters, to prevent and reduce their risks.

     Currently the project is working in the canton of Corredores in the communities of Central Campesina and Los Castaños, which have presented high socio-environmental risk such as floods, pests, inequality and impact from the monoculture of African palm.

     According to Eleazar Morales Aguirre, professor at the School of Psychology and coordinator of the project, the activities were organized into three axes: community organization, promotion of mental health and strategic alliances.

     In the field of organization, it focuses on training communities in disaster prevention management, with a more formal methodology but always maintaining recreational spaces “we have been applying the creation of risk maps that allows us, together with wisdom that these populations have on their territory, identify those areas of greatest risk,” declared Morales.

    Identifying the origin of risk

     Part of the work is to guide communities in identifying the origin of this risk, such as the impact of banana activity that created the canals and dikes, which made the area susceptible to flooding.

     Within the field of mental health, opportunities for recreation, play and sports are provided, especially for the young population, boys and girls, older adults, as stated by MaríaÁngel Castro Ramírez, Psychology student and project assistant.  In the case of community leaders, the training is on psychological first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation without leaving aside the more recreational-informative spaces, Castro indicated.

     Coordinator Morales highlighted strategic alliances as a third axis of work to generate an interinstitutional and multidisciplinary approach.  “Within the vulnerable communities, the feeling of abandonment on the part of the State institutions is very present, which only attends to the emergency occasionally but the populations are left without the possibility of fully recovering after an event.”

    Psychological and social consequences

     Among the psychosocial effects that a population can suffer due to an adverse event or disaster can be found: stress, uncertainty, anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms, human, material and economic losses, which means grief and an impact on their daily lives.

     When the loss is collective, such as when a flood destroys a bridge, there is also a social and economic impact.

     Education is an element that is severely affected by disasters and emergencies in the canton, as highlighted by YeseniaFernández Matamoros, a teacher at the Los Castaños Single-teacher School, who pointed out how in the pandemic and during the floods, students suffer significant delays in Educative development.

    Another structural cause

    Inequality, together with disorganization and lack of preparation, deepens the impact of any adverse event on populations and on the other hand, once the disaster has occurred, it increases inequality.  However, Morales highlighted as an important achievement, a product of the project’s work, the creation of the 1st Communal Emergency Committee in which seven communities surrounding Central Campesina and Los Castaños were organized to form this organization, which is a formal part of the System. National Risk Management and began dialogue with various local organizations to prevent and manage disasters and emergencies.

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