Literature review

Life in the aftermath: a summary of the literature on individual and family functioning following natural disasters

4 Dec 2009

The 2009 bushfires in Victoria involved loss of life and destruction of property on an unprecedented scale. Extensive flooding also occurred in areas of Queensland and New South Wales in the first half of the same year. While by no means unusual occurrences in Australia - Australians currently have an estimated lifetime exposure to natural disaster of 1 in 6 - these recent events may be the harbingers of more frequent and ferocious weather events associated with climate change.

For practitioners working in affected areas, the significant losses and complex needs faced by clients in the aftermath of catastrophic events poses particular professional challenges. While there has been relatively little research on the impact of natural disasters on families, there exists a vast body of literature on the psychosocial impact at an individual level, allowing us to extrapolate to the family context. What follows is a review of the literature on the human response to natural disaster with a particular focus on families, children and adolescents. However, in reviewing the literature it is important to recognise at the outset that each event is unique, and each affected community will respond in a unique way. The process of recovery will vary depending on the personal, cultural, social, economic and political factors at play.

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