Demographic and Cultural Differences Influence Recovery Among Young People After a Natural Disaster

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Demographic and Cultural Differences Influence Recovery Among Young People After a Natural Disaster

Human activities have contributed to the occurrences of natural disaster that leads to great loss of human life and property / Photo by Mtaira via 123RF


The earth might seem like a more actively dangerous place compared to the past decades because of several factors such as climate change, global warming, and natural disasters. But if we consider see this from a wider perspective, we might realize that it isn't Mother Nature who's changed, but humans. For the past few years, human activity has contributed to the occurrence of natural disasters, causing great loss in human life and property.

In a report by the World Economic Forum, natural disasters were found to have caused over $306 billion in damage in the United States alone last 2017. Howard Kunreuther, Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions and co-director of the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, said, “It’s very clear that things are getting worse now than they have been in the past. Particularly in Houston with respect to Hurricane Harvey, a lot of the losses from these disasters are now coming from urban flooding and things that had never been on the agenda before.”

For instance, a recent 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit the island of Sulawesi in Thailand. The disaster damaged the lives of over 2.4 million people. More than 844 deaths were also reported by authorities. 

Previous studies have shown that the increase in natural disasters on our planet is caused by both natural and man-made factors. The temperatures of the Earth's ocean and atmosphere due to global warming lead to more intense storms, including hurricanes. Also, the frequency and intensity of these hurricanes contribute to the large-scale temperature fluctuations in the tropical waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean such as El Niño and La Niña.

Humans make these impacts worse as they rapidly urbanize flood-prone regions. This can endanger residents' lives, since they are more likely to be affected by flash floods and coastal floods. 


Natural disasters are caused both by natural and man-made factors / Photo by Giannis Papanikos via Shutterstock


The Impact of Natural Disasters

A natural disaster could have occurred within just a few minutes or a few days, but the damages and the effects of the disaster can be felt for a long time. It not only negatively affects our environment, but also all the people who experienced it. According to the website Sciencing, these destructive events can cause local communities to lose so many economic resources, recovery consequently becomes extremely difficult.

Natural disasters can also affect the economy of a local community, even on the national scale. Loss of infrastructure, an expense of reclamation efforts, and loss of normal revenue are just a few of the consequences disaster can bring. Additionally, these disasters can dramatically damage or transform our ecosystems and wildlife in just a snap. 

The people who experience these events firsthand are especially affected. In a study conducted by Annette M. La Greca, a professor of Psychology and Pediatrics at the University of Miami, titled "Optimizing clinical thresholds for PTSD: Extending the DSM-5 preschool criteria to school-age children," she examined how to define post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children with significant distress after a major hurricane. Although she found that even after a devastating disaster, most children remain resilient, they have different ways of expressing distress. 

According to an article by Science Daily, about two thirds of kids who are initially distressed after they experience disaster cope with their emotions naturally over the course of the school year. "We now know from research that some children who endured a stressful evacuation or experienced scary or life-threatening events during the storm are at risk for a poor recovery over time. Children who need extra support include those who report feeling anxious or depressed, as well as stress, and who lack social support from friends and family. They also have multiple stressors to deal with after the storm. All of those factors contribute to poor recovery and less resilience," La Greca said. 

Factors in Young People's Recovery After a Natural Disaster

In a recent study conducted by social work professors Tara M. Powell and Kate M. Wegmann from the University of Illinois, they found that the demographic and cultural differences influence coping behavior after natural disasters among young people. "We found that culture really matters in terms of how adolescents respond to a disaster. Some of the cultural values that are associated with resilience, such as a focus on community and informal means of support, are less prominent among middle-class populations than lower-income populations," Wegmann said. 

In another article by Science Daily, Wegmann explained that wealthier demographics and middle class cultural values are more about individualism and personal responsibility. They also found that the coping strategy used by young people after natural disasters involves forgetting about the problem, which can be noticed with social withdrawal, wishful thinking, blame and anger, and positive coping.

The authors also stated that the lack of consistency and reliable assessment tools hinder many people from understanding how and why disaster victims use various coping methods and the influences that demographic differences may have on their responses. 



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