Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Psychological Intervention in Major Emergencies: An Asia-Pacific Perspective

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Psychological Intervention in Major Emergencies: An Asia-Pacific Perspective

Article excerpt

Our aim in this paper is to examine what might constitute good practices for psychological intervention in any major or complex emergencies that can be anticipated occurring in the South-West Pacific, Australasia and southern South East Asia region. We do not believe there can be a singular 'best practice' that can be prescribed for such events, rather that through discussion broad guidelines can be developed to inform decision makers about what would constitute probable good practices when a major emergency occurs.


The events we are concerned with are termed major or complex emergencies. The term complex emergency being defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 38 as situations in which the capacity to sustain livelihood and life are threatened, particularly when high levels of violence are involved (Heller, 2006). Within these categories of emergency we include all events, whether caused by human agency, natural events, or major technological failure, which have a significant negative impact on a large proportion of the population of an area or region. It is a major emergency for the international community when the events exceed the ability, capacity, or the willingness of local authorities to respond effectively. This event may be acute, such as a storm, earthquake, tsunami, armed conflict or rebellion, or it may be a chronic event such as an on-going armed conflict or military occupation, famine, drought, extreme poverty, or government repression. Major emergencies will have a psychological impact depending on the level of threat involved, the visibility of the event to the population as a whole, and the duration of the threats involved. The consequent psychological stress and distress will relate to these factors and, at both an individual and community level, may also be acute or chronic. In chronic states of emergency, the threat, and any consequent stress may be chronic at a moderate level with intermittent periods of very high stress. The consequences of the stress will be moderated by factors that promote individual and collective resilience.

Victims of an emergency may be homeless, or lack safety or sustenance because of an emergency but may still be residing in their original location; they may have had to move to another location in their own country and are regarded as internally displaced persons (IDPs); or may have had to seek the protection or sustenance offered in another country and can be formally recognised as refugees.

Likely Major Emergencies in the Region

In the Asia-Pacific region geological and geographic forces are the most likely agents of major emergencies, although armed conflict has lead to recent emergencies in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Timor Leste, Bouganville, and Fiji. The civil impact of the armed conflict in East Timor is the most recent significant major emergency in the region attributable to this cause. Baingana, Bannon, and Thomas (2005) report on the high correlation between poverty and conflict which suggests that conflict is likely to occur in the poorer countries of the region. J. De Jong (2002) reports that, of the 127 'wars' since 1945, 125 have been in poor countries. The recent armed conflicts in Bouganville, Timor Leste, and the Solomon Islands, and attacks in April 2006 on Honiara's 'China Town' in the Solomon Islands, are consistent with this history.

Storms, leading to destruction and flooding; earthquakes, with or without resultant tsunami; and volcanic activity, are the most likely natural causes of major emergencies in the region. With ocean levels rising due to global warming, storm-driven flooding is likely to increase as a cause of disaster in the islands of the region. Australia is geographically unique and fires, floods and droughts are the most likely causes of natural disasters there. A serious threat across the region as a whole is that of pandemic disease either in humans, or in domestic birds or animals. …

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