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Disasters Affect The Poor The Most

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE; Friday 13 November 2009


Disasters Affect The Poor The Most

Disasters such as the recent tsunami in Samoa have impacts that are being grossly underestimated by the Western world, said visiting disaster mental health expert Dr Michael Cronin in a keynote speech to the Asia Pacific Social Work Conference in Auckland this week.

Dr Cronin, a US-based social worker who has been recognized for his international humanitarian service by the Red Cross , award winning social worker, said it was a myth that the increasing occurrence of so-called natural disasters don’t have a discriminatory impact on poorer countries – effectively acting as a poverty multiplier.

“There are many factors that deepen the affect of a disaster on poorer countries, such as the density of populations in marginal or hazardous locations. The very nature of societies with a higher ratio of dependents to wage earners who are injured or killed will often push families into more extreme poverty and disrupt whole economies for many years,” he said.

Dr Cronin noted that Western countries, New Zealand included, too easily lose sight of the secondary effects of a disaster’s impact on long-term human development after the headlines about the ‘latest disaster’have ceased.

Whereas a disaster in a developed country will give rise to immediate calculations of property and insurance costs and comparatively few deaths, poorer countries that already exist under vulnerable conditions can be pushed over the edge by a disaster, either of the high impact nature of a hurricane or earthquake, or the slower damage wrought by a drought. 

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Dr Cronin said initiatives such as the reconstruction approach taken in the Honduras – called ‘Reconstruction with Transformation’ – held some hope that the spiral-down cycle that was happening could be turned around. He made a call for the wider ramifications and cumulative effect of disasters on poorer countries to be a lead topic for social workers as a part of the current move to create a worldwide social work agenda culminating in a summit conference being held by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) in Hong Kong in June 2010.

The Asia Pacific Social Work Conference is a combined event of the IFSW and the Asia Pacific Association for Social Work Education (APASWE). It is the first international event of this scale to be hosted in New Zealand since 1995.

"We have been excited and privileged to hold this event,” said Rose Henderson, President of the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers. “Our Asia Pacific region is the largest in IFSW, spanning as it does the Middle East, across Asia through South East Asia, Australasia and the Pacific”.

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