Call edition 2012

A new edition of the Prize of the Belgian Development Cooperation has been launched. This call is open until March 31st, 2011. You can read in the regulations whether you comply with the criteria for participation.

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Psychosocial actions of humanitarian assistance in case of natural disasters, seen from a Central-American perspective

Antonieta BELTRAN GALVEZ student laureate

°1974 El Salvador
Licence in psychology, Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas, San Salvador, El Salvador, 1998

Actuaciones psicosociales de la asistencia humanitaria en casos de desastres naturales/Una perspectiva desde Centroamerica

This research work deals with humanitarian assistance in case of natural disasters in Central America, in particular Hurricane Mitch and the earthquake in El Salvador in January 2001. The author takes as starting-point the view of those who receive assistance, their experiences, reactions and emotions in these situations of sudden emergency. From this perspective, the author describes the various interventions of humanitarian assistance and their legal framework. This analysis enables the author to demonstrate, on the one hand, the paternalism of Western humanitarian agencies, who prevent the victims from taking control over their own destiny. On the other hand, they focus too much on the supply of the basic material needs and too little on problems of human dignity and mental distress. The consequences of natural disasters are not only material, but also psychological and social. The originality of this study lies in the fact that it draws attention to the interaction between the psychological difficulties linked to the effect of natural disasters (mortality, deterioration of the soil, loss of spatial reference points etc) and the social and economic capacity of the victims to cope with them and to set up means of prevention. For the author, helping the people to express how they live their experience, how they manage to insert it in its context, is a central point in the framework of material and social reconstruction. Taking into consideration the sociopsychological process lived by the victims is thus a necessity in humanitarian assistance. But it is also necessary to link this approach to the state of poverty in which the victims lived before and after the disaster. In this context, the author enlarges the discussion to the North-South relations dialogue by focussing on a series of inequalities among populations according to the societies they live in, when being confronted with disasters.

report by Prof. Dr. Jean-Marie Wautelet, Department of Population and Development Studies, Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium