If we look at the information collected by the Organisation of EconomicCoordination and Development in 2003, which has catalogued disasters occurringall over the world during the last 50 years, and the figures of the UN internationalStrategy of Disaster Reduction, Disaster in Numbers in 2005, it becomes clearwhere our responsibilities lie in the provision of psychosocial care for disastervictims. We see that the number of natural and technological/man-made disastershas risen annually from ten or so in 1950 to hundreds in 2000. The number offatalities has also risen dramatically and its effects have become more severe.One thing that we have learned from disasters in recent years is that providingadequate care to the victims reduce the risk to develop long-lasting psychologicalsuffering.There is a growing understanding of the mid- and long term after-effects ofdisaster, its manifestation as well as ways of prevention and treatment. But in thepast few years a number of scientific publications have claimed that the practiceof conducting early interventions after disasters and calamities, had in half of thecases no effect on the state of health of the persons concerned but may in facthave been harmful to them, (e.g. Bäumker & Bering in 2002, Rose, Bisson &Wessely in 2002 or McNally, Bryant & Ehlers in 2003). This conflicts with thesubjectively experienced assistance by this intervention experienced by the victimsas well as by the social workers and volunteers. Helpers and policymakers askthemselves regularly how they should deal with these contradictions.Psychosocial care is spreading due to its added value in terms of fosteringresilience, improvement of coping and selecting those affected who needpsychological support.
Psychosocial care is a promising and notablyprofessionalizing field. Evidence based studies and best practices are available butunsatisfactorily not united and implemented. Other shortfalls are that astandardised public health approach in post-disaster psychosocial care is missing.In practice, many institutions and individuals offer their knowledge and insightsbut psychosocial care is not anchored in the existing disaster plans, there is toomuch variation in quality and approach. Mental health care and other careinstitutions are not always adequately prepared for the support and care of thesurvivors, the care providers and rescue workers and others involved. Variousshortfalls have been identified in the organisation and implementation ofpsychosocial care in recent history. There is a fragmentation of and insufficientaccess to knowledge and opinions about effective interventions, the incidence andnature of acute and long-term problems, the identification of risk groups and riskfactors and criteria for triage. Frequently there is a lack of methods and protocolsregarding the registration of those affected, and guidelines about do's and don't'sduring the initial crisis support.
In almost every Member State of the European Union some kind of psychosocialintervention is initiated after a disaster. There is a striking variety in activities,methods and approaches to the provision of psychosocial support, depending uponprevailing theories, economic resources, culture, and situational characteristics. Public authorities have in this context an undeniable responsibility to make surethat preparing, planning and evaluating psychosocial intervention is doneaccording to standards and guidelines which are based on the results ofinternational scientific research, best practices and lessons learned.
The project EUTOPA pursues to the development of procedure suggestionsconcerning a pan-European standardisation of psychosocial concepts for aftercarebased on the European Policy Paper for Psycho-Social Support in Situations ofMass Emergency. The results of former projects, e.g. the Impacts Guideline forEarly Intervention (Stichting Impact), Working Together to Support Individuals inan Emergency or Disaster (British Red Cross) or the concept of the Target GroupIntervention Program (TGIP) form the basis for the recommendations concerningthe standardisations.
In the course of the project, two conferences will take place. These conferenceswill be held in Cologne, Germany (29nd of November – 1st of December 2007) andin fall 2008 in Amsterdam/The Netherlands.
Co funded by the European Commission, Directorate Environment,
Grant Agreement No. 07030601/2006/447903/SUB/A3