Thursday, December 4, 2014


Joseph O. Prewitt Diaz, PhD

This is a talking document formulated with the intent of generating a discussion between the School of Law and the College of Social Sciences of the Universidad of Puerto Rico. The focus is on developing a mechanism that will provide services to disaster affected people while at the same time safeguarding there human and legal rights.

1.    Background

Environmental changes dictate that IHE’s stay at the forefront of societal events, and assume leadership, as necessary, to alleviate human suffering, by modifying the curriculum or identifying cross cutting opportunities.  The need for a humanitarian response to local and regional disasters has led to a discernment process that resulted in the identification of psychosocial support programs after a disaster as the organizational focal point of all actions and processes developed during disaster response, from immediate response to reconstruction. Psychosocial support serves as the platform for social and psychological stabilization of the affected people as well as the socioeconomic re-establishment of the people.

1.1.       Disaster and disaster response

Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico are not unfamiliar to natural and manmade disasters. In the last ten years the region has experienced hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and manmade technological disasters that cost an estimated 50,000 deaths, over 5 million people injured and displaced.

1.1.1.   Central America and South America

The flooding in Venezuela initiated the 21st century with mud slides that caused an approximate loss of 30,000 people, and at least one million of affected and displaced survivors. This natural event was followed by mud slides in Las Casitas, Nicaragua, and floods in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the Atlantic zone of Nicaragua and Belize as a result of tropical storms and hurricanes.  The earthquakes in El Salvador in 2002 left over 30% of the country’s population displaced, caused the destruction of infrastructure (schools, hospitals, and other support systems).

1.1.2.   The Caribbean

The Caribbean is victimized yearly by tropical storms and hurricanes that impact the lesser and larger Antilles. Floods, high winds, and limited infra structure cause destruction and increases the levels of distress in the affected Islands. One such disaster is the recent earthquake in Haiti. Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital was leveled by a huge earthquake January 12, 2010.  Haiti’s government ceased to function. Its infrastructure was devastated, thus confounding relief agencies that have tried to set up distribution centers. The Haitian Directorate for Civil Protection (DCP) has estimated that the earthquake resulted in 75,000 persons killed, 200,000 injured and one million displaced. Approximately half of all structures in Port-au-Prince are believed to have collapsed.  IOM estimates that there are more than 300 makeshift settlements scattered throughout the city, with an estimated 370,000 inhabitants. This is a humanitarian crisis of major proportion at our door steps.

1.1.3.   Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has not been left untouched. In the last two years there were floods and mud slides in thirteen towns in the East Southeast of the Island that displaced hundreds of families and disrupted essential services. Several months ago the explosion of an abandoned refinery and storage area near San Juan caused hundreds of displaced families, damages to homes and the environment estimated in the millions of dollars, and countless disruptions in the daily life’s of the affected people that resulted in an increase in psychological distress.

1.2.       Theory base

                  An understanding of place setting is one of the most important factors in attempting to devise a psychosocial support program for disaster affected people. Morgan (2009) indicates that when a person feels a right to be in certain place than attachment begins to form even if the person is not physically in the place. It is just the subjective feeling of place which sets off attachment for a given place. The feeling of place involves three factors: (1) freedom of action in the place, (2) social interaction with others in place, and (3) continuity of living in the same place  (Morgan, 2009).

Place based psychosocial support (PBPS) (Prewitt Diaz and Dayal, 2007, Prewitt Diaz (2008), Prewitt Diaz (2008)  is concerned with assisting persons affected by a disaster in a particular place or micro-community to identify collective coping mechanism that allows the affected people within place,  to provide care and safety for each other until such time as the “place” has been re-established.  During the initial steps of PBPS explores with the affected people their sense of “place”, attractions to “place”, and the degree of interaction with each other. As time goes by the affected people prepare a conceptual map—that serves to identify the affected persons to themselves and to outsiders. The affected people define and redefine the levels of belongingness, quality of life, friendliness, and care of the placed (Puddifoot, 1996). The orientation of the group may be problem-focused or relationship-focused.

PBPS promotes collaborative coping mechanisms such as solution focused activities and community problem solving. Lazarus & Folkman (1984) define coping as “constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person” (p. 141). Coping is framed as process oriented activities, that allow the affect people individually and collectively to manage the effects of the stressor (hurricane, floods, or explosions) in their perception of community and well being, and allows them to master their environment.

Communal coping occurs when one or more affected persons perceive a stressor as “our” problem appraisal as opposed to “my” problem and activates a process of shared coping (Manzo & Perkins, 2006). In the context of a major disaster, coping is defined functionally as the pooling of psychological, social, spiritual, physical and environmental resources of individuals, couples, families, neighborhoods, and communitites to master, tolerate, reduce, or minimize stressful events and develop resiliency for future events.

PBPS fosters activities where affected people are thinking and acting as though the stressor is shared. PBPS believes when affect people in a particular place deal with particular problem is beneficial, necessary and expected.  PBPS encourages communication about the circumstances and meaning of the situation, that currently affects the group, how it relates to the group and what is the potential impact.  The affected people collaborate to construct strategies that are aimed at reducing the negative impact of the stressor and to develop strategies to resolve the adaptational demands of the event on the place.

PBPS activities are oriented toward expanding affected peoples’ resources and capacity for dealing with stressors, provide the mechanism to mobilize community resource to reduce losses, enhance psychological and social support and buffer stress. As a result of the activities and community participation group cohesion, and reciprocal altruism is increased.

As the affected people become more confident in using the collaborative processes,  such as mutual support, collective actions to meet challenges, a high level of member participation in problem-solving, and a high percentage of volunteers (Prewitt Diaz, 2008b) impact an increase in a feeling of well being and community’s quality of life improves.  Behavior that is directed toward increasing the well being of others is encouraged and rewarded.

PBPS activities are more prevalent in cultures that emphasize and promote a sense of place (high-trust, group-oriented). Trust is reflected in the nature of a culture’s communal or group problem-solving activity.  Events that simultaneously affect a whole community (explosion, Hurricane) may induce the community to band together in their coping. At the outside PBPS requires an assessment of the relationship between affected people about the nature of the relationships within community members. The issue is whether the individual and the community perceive the stressor in the same way.

In summary, PBPS is a program that looks at the complex process of situational, contextual, intrapersonal and interpersonal factors. Assist the affected people to define their collective stressor, devise strategies to address the stressor and foster a resolution that encourages the well being of the affected people (See Appendix A).


1.3.       Legal Standard for disaster response


When disaster strikes, affected people are often approached by many groups who identify themselves as stakeholders (national governments, the United Nations personnel, Red Cross and Red Crescent, international non-governmental official, faith based organizational representatives and the media to mention a few).  If you or a family member has been involved in a mass disaster, individuals from any or all of the above categories may want to speak with you because they “are there to help”. Preserving personal and communal legal rights may depend upon your ability to identify those groups seeking your attention and to deal with them appropriately. Emotional distress and grief are inevitable after a catastrophic event, and this emotional condition may greatly affect the individual and communal initial ability to deal with their legal rights. Conversely, the individuals identified in the categories listed previously usually possess extensive training for dealing with a catastrophic disaster of this nature. It is important for the affected people not to assume any individual group is looking out for their best interests.  It is important to realize that these groups respond to disaster based on the mandates of the funders.

Human rights are the legal underpinning of all humanitarian work pertaining to natural disasters. There is no other legal framework to guide such activities, especially in areas where there is no armed conflict. If humanitarian assistance is not based on a human rights framework, it risks having too narrow a focus, and cannot integrate all the basic needs of the victims into a holistic planning process. It risks overlooking factors that will be important for recovery and reconstruction later on. Furthermore, neglecting the human rights of those affected by natural disasters effectively means not taking into account that such people do not live in a legal vacuum, but in countries with laws, rules and institutions that should protect their rights (See Appendix D below).

An excellent psychosocial program introduces interventions based on the rights of the disaster affected people. There are at least six areas of accountability (See Appendix B) that must be considered: (1) accountability commitments are made to disaster survivors, (2) transparency and information sharing, (3) participation and informed consent, (4) staff competencies, (5) feedback/complaint handling system, and (6) continued learning.
There are at least four sources that must be considered in the development of services for disaster affected persons: (1)  the legal underpinning of the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response (See Appendix C for reference on legal documents), (2) the international guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings, (3) Minimum standards for education in Emergencies, chronic crises and Early Reconstruction, and (4) the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership. These sources inform the linkage between psychosocial needs of the affected people, their legal rights and the combination of both to achieve resilience and move on.
The appropriate amount of services to which you are entitled and the appropriate time to discuss the types of programs that will be undertaken by your community may be  best answered by a lawyer who is knowledgeable with international humanitarian assistance laws and the legal implications of such assistance. The purpose of consulting with an advocate is to help you preserve your legal rights until you are prepared to make an informed decision based on all of the circumstances and unburdened by the emotional trauma and stress imposed upon you by the events of the disaster.
In summary, if your community is affected by a major disaster, you will probably need the services of the mental health and psychosocial personnel as well as the advice of an advocate. It is the affected people decision when to select an attorney to inform the community’s legal rights. It is the responsibility of the national and international stakeholders to make you aware of your rights as member of the affected people.

Bibliography and References

HAP (2008). Emergency Check List: Humanitarian Accountability Partnership. Geneva, Switzerland. Humanitarian Accountability Partnership.

Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE). (2004). Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies, Chronic Crises, and Early Reconstruction. Paris, France. UNESCO.

IASC (2006). IASC Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters. Geneva, Switzerland. Inter-Agency Standing Committee.

IASC (2007). IASC guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in emergency settings. Geneva, Switzerland. Inter-Agency Standing Committee.

Lazarus, R.S.  & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal and coping. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Manzo, L.C. & Perkins, D.D. (2006). Finding common ground: The importance of place attachment to community participation and planning. Journal of Planning Literature. 20(4), 335-350.

Morgan, P. (2009). Towards a developmental theory of place attachment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29(1), 47-61.
Prewitt Diaz, J.O. (2008a). Integrating psychosocial programs in multi-sector response to international disasters. American Psychologist. 63(8), 818-827.

Prewitt Diaz, J.O. (2008b). From “root shock” to community and school reconstruction: A psychosocial support model.  Revista Cayey (A Journal of the University of Puerto Rico). 86, 31-42.

Puddifoot, J.E. (1996). Some initial considerations in the measurement of community identity Journal of Community Psychology 24(4) 327 – 336.

Save the Children UK (2003). Toolkits: A practical guide to planning, monitoring and impact assessment. London, United Kingdom. The Save the Children Fund.

SPHERE Project (2004). Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response. Geneva, Switzerland. The SPHERE Project & Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response.

Appendix A

Recommendations for Disaster Mental Health, Psychosocial Support, and legal needs for Haitian Populations in the United States
Dr. Joseph O. Prewitt Diaz
January 16, 2010

1.     Conduct an assessment within the Haitian communities (i.e. Little Haiti in Miami).
a.     Organize community meetings (DMH, Pastoral Care and community outreach person).
b.     Assess needs as defined by the members of the community.
c.     Identify protective factors within the respective communities in the States.
d.     Identify persons from the Haitian Diaspora that may be able to rotate into Haiti and provide psychological support. (Functional knowledge on psychosocial needs, problems and available resources to everyone working at each level of response).
e.     Identify human and legal rights of the affected persons.

2.     Prepare a strategic, comprehensive, timely, and realistic plan for training.
a.     Provide Orientation sessions on community assessment, and participatory processes.
b.     Train person from the Haitian community to provide Psychological First Aid.
c.     Skills for rapid culturally appropriate needs, problems, and resources assessment.
d.     Identify learning methodologies that facilitate the immediate and practical applications of learning (Due to high degree of illiteracy ---Posters, brochures and pamphlets with pictures).
e.     Psychosocial support to children and youth that have been relocated to the United States.
f.      Cultural and traditional methods of self care.

3.     Training for religious and community leaders
a.     Identify the role and capacity to engage in constructive involvement that minimizes distress by promoting resilience and hope.
b.     Identify culturally appropriate ways of making peace with and managing feelings of loss.
c.     Making peace with the dead and appropriate methods of grieving.

4.     Training for teachers and other school officials in the receiving areas
a.     Understanding the role of education and schools as a psychosocial intervention.
b.     How and when to use Psychological First Aid
c.     Methods of prevention (including how to work with and mobilize communities and their leadership.
d.     Setting up safe spaces for children and adolescent including informal school activities.
e.     Importance of maintaining families and communities and minimizing institutional placement of children.

5.      Training for legal advocates
a.     Understand and become conversant on the role of advocates in protecting human rights and legal rights of disaster affected persons (IASC Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters).
b.     Develop strategies to provide training in legal rights and humanitarian rights as they relate to program development.
c.     Assure that affected people participate and are able to ascertain accountability for commitments made by external stakeholders.
d.     Understand the value of participatory planning, monitoring and evaluation, feedback and complaint handling systems for the disaster affected communities.

6.     Develop interventions with recent arrivals and people from receiving communities to increase resilience and hope.
a.     Methods to design and the skills to implement intervention in accordance with the needs identified by community members.
b.     Enhance coordination skills.
c.     Encourage community facilitation and mobilization skills.

Appendix B

Appendix C

Instruments inform the Humanitarian Charter and the Minimum Standards in Disaster Response

Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966.
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination 1969.

The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional
Protocols of 1977.

Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and the Protocol
relating to the Status of Refugees 1967.

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment 1984.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide 1948.

Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women 1979.

Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons 1960.

Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement 1998.

Appendix D



I. Persons affected by natural disasters should enjoy the same rights and freedoms under human rights law as others in their country and not be discriminated against.
Targeted measures to address assistance and protection needs of specific categories of affected populations do not constitute discrimination if and to the extent that they are based on differing needs.

II. States have the primary duty and responsibility to provide assistance to persons affected by natural disasters and to protect their human rights.

III. Organizations providing protection and assistance to persons affected by natural disasters accept that human rights underpin all humanitarian action. In situations of natural disaster they should therefore respect the human rights of persons affected by disasters at all times and advocate for their promotion and protection to the furthest extent. Humanitarian organizations shall not promote, actively participate in, or in any other manner contribute to, or endorse policies or activities, which do or can lead to human rights violations by States. They shall strive to enable the affected people to exercise their own rights.

IV. Organizations providing protection and assistance in situations of natural disasters shall be guided by these Operational Guidelines in all of their activities, in particular when monitoring and assessing the situation and needs of affected persons, when programming and implementing their own activities as well as when entering into a dialogue with governmental authorities on their duties and responsibilities under international human rights and, where applicable international humanitarian and refugee law. In doing so, they shall remain accountable to all their relevant stakeholders, in particular to the persons affected by the natural disaster.

V. All communities affected by the natural disaster should be meaningfully consulted and given the opportunity to take charge of their own affairs to the extent possible and to participate in the planning and implementation of the various stages of the disaster response. They are entitled to accessible information concerning the (i) the nature and level of disaster they are facing; (ii) the possible risk mitigation measures that can be taken; (iii) early warning information and (iv) information on ongoing humanitarian assistance, recovery efforts and their respective entitlements.

VI. These Operational Guidelines seek to improve the practical implementation of international instruments protecting human rights. They shall not be interpreted as restricting, modifying or impairing the provisions of international human rights or, where applicable, international humanitarian and refugee law, and they should be applied together with other relevant Codes of Conducts, Guidelines and Manuals.

VII. Organizations providing protection and assistance in situations of natural disasters shall endeavor to have adequate mechanisms established to ensure that the Operational Guidelines are applied and that the human rights of the affected are protected.


A.1 Evacuations, relocations and other life-saving measures

A.1.1 If an imminent natural disaster creates a serious risk for the life, physical integrity or health of affected individuals and communities, all appropriate measures necessary, such as emergency shelter arrangements, to protect those in danger, including in particular vulnerable groups should be taken to the extent possible.

A.1.2 If such measures would be insufficient, endangered persons should be allowed, and assisted to leave the danger zone or, to the extent that they cannot do so on their own, be evacuated from it by using all available means.

A.1.3 These evacuations should be carried out in a manner that fully respects the right to life, dignity, liberty and security of those affected, and measures be taken to safeguard homes and common assets left behind. Evacuated persons should be registered and their evacuation monitored.

A.1.4 When the natural disaster has occurred, persons affected by it should be allowed to move to other parts of the country and to settle there. This right may not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, and are necessary to protect national security, the safety and security of affected populations, public order (ordre public), public health or the rights and freedoms of others.

A.1.5 Persons, including evacuees who have been ordered or forced or ordered to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residences as result of a natural disaster or its effects, or have left in order to avoid them, and have not crossed a an internationally recognized State border should be treated as belonging to the category of internally displaced persons as covered by the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

A.1.6 After the emergency phase, persons displaced by the natural disaster should be granted the opportunity to freely choose whether they want to return to their homes and places of origin, remain in the area where they have been displaced to, or to resettle to another part of the country. Their right of choice may not be subjected to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, and are necessary to protect national security, the safety and security of affected populations, public order (ordre public), safety, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others. In particular, the return of persons displaced by the disaster to their homes and places of origin should only be prohibited if these homes or places of origin are situated in zones that present real dangers for the affected persons’ life or physical integrity and health. These restrictions should last no longer than such dangers exist and only be implemented if other, less intrusive, measures of protection are not available or possible.

A.1.7 Persons affected by the natural disaster should not, under any circumstances, be forced to return to or resettle in any place where their life, safety, liberty and/or health would be at further risk.

A.1.8 Unless it is necessary for the protection of such persons against very serious and imminent threats to their lives, their physical integrity or health, evacuations against the will of such persons or the prohibitions of their return should not be supported by organizations providing protection and assistance to persons affected by natural disasters, even if they have been ordered by the competent authorities. Such organizations should not become involved in such evacuations in any manner.

A.1.9: Persons affected by natural disasters, displaced or not, should be protected against the dangers of potential secondary hazards and other disaster risks.

A.2 Protection against violence, including gender-based violence

A.2.1 During and after the emergency phase, law enforcement personnel and local authorities should be encouraged to take effective measures to ensure the security of populations affected by the natural disaster.

A.2.2 Mechanisms which are appropriate to address instances of violence and other violations of human rights, as well as of the guarantees under international humanitarian law, should be established without delay. In particular, the deployment of law enforcement personnel to areas at risk of or with a breakdown of law and order, including sexual and gender-based violence, robberies, or looting should be requested.

A.2.3 Appropriate measures should be taken as early and as quickly as possible to protect affected populations, in particular women and boy and girl children, against trafficking, forced labor and contemporary forms of slavery such as sale into marriage, forced prostitution, and sexual exploitation.

A.2.4 Should the natural disaster have occurred in a country with an armed conflict, appropriate measures should be taken as soon as possible to ensure that children affected by it are protected against being recruited or associated with armed forces or groups.

A.3 Camp security

A.3.1 Persons displaced by the disaster should, to the extent possible, be provided with the means to recover as quickly as possible and become self-sustainable (even in places of temporary displacement) or with fast rehabilitation assistance for return. Camps are a last resort and should only be established where, and until, such possibilities do not exist.

A.3.2 The location and lay-out of camps and settlements for persons displaced by the disaster should be located in low natural hazard risk areas and designed so as to maximize the security and protection of displaced persons, including women and others those whose physical security is most at risk, such as children, older persons, disabled, single-headed households and members of religious and ethnic minority groups or indigenous peoples.

A.3.3 Security should be provided in camps, in particular by monitoring, through law enforcement personnel and camp committees drawn from among the displaced communities, the security situation. Appropriate mechanisms to address instances of violence and other violations of the human rights of camp residents should be established.

A.3.4 Persons affected by the disaster should be allowed to move freely in and out of camps, and such movement should not be restricted or prohibited unless it is necessary for the protection of the security or health of its residents, or that of the population in its vicinity. In this case, such restrictions should not remain in force any longer than absolutely necessary.

A.3.5 In order to maintain the civilian character of camps at all times, appropriate measures should be taken to avoid the presence of uncontrolled armed elements in camps and settlements. Where such elements are present, they should be separated from the civilian population in the camp. The presence of armed State police or security forces should be limited to the extent strictly necessary to provide security.

A.3.6 Once the immediate emergency phase is over, camps set up by armed forces or groups should be managed by civilian authorities or organizations, and the role of police and security forces should be limited to providing security, where needed, logistical support, and the provision of goods and services such as food, shelter and health.

A.4 Protection against anti-personnel landmines and other explosive devices

A.4.1 Access for specialized organizations should be facilitated, so that appropriate measures including information and awareness campaigns and fencing off and marking relevant areas can be taken by specialized organizations as soon as possible to protect persons affected by natural disasters, displaced or not, against the dangers of anti-personnel landmines and other explosive ordnance that may have been dislodged, concealed or obscured in the course of the natural disaster.


B.1 Access to goods and services, and humanitarian action

B.1.1 Measures should be taken to ensure that persons affected by natural disasters, in particularly those displaced, have unimpeded and non-discriminatory access to goods and services necessary for address their basic needs.

B.1.2 Humanitarian action should be based on assessed need and provided to all persons affected by the natural disaster without adverse distinction of any kind other than that of differing needs.

B.1.3 Safe and non-discriminatory access to available humanitarian assistance should be secured for all persons in need. In particular, measures should be taken to grant priority access to vulnerable groups such as minorities, single-headed households, elderly, people with disabilities and unaccompanied and separated children.

B.1.4 International humanitarian organizations and other appropriate actors should offer their services in support of persons affected by natural disasters and in need of humanitarian assistance, in particular when authorities concerned are unable or unwilling to provide the required humanitarian assistance.

B.1.5 Humanitarian action should be carried out in accordance with the principles of humanity, impartiality and, in countries with armed conflict, neutrality. Such assistance should not be diverted.

B.1.6 International organizations and agencies and other actors providing humanitarian assistance should ensure coordination of their actions among themselves and with national and local authorities, taking into account the responsibilities for certain areas of activities assigned to specific agencies and organizations.

B.2 Provision of adequate food, water and sanitation, shelter, clothing and essential
health services

B.2.1 During and after the emergency phase of the disaster, adequate food, water and sanitation, shelter, clothing, and essential health services should be provided to persons affected by natural disasters who are in need of these goods and services without any discrimination of any kind as to race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, age, disability or other status. Adequacy of these goods and services means that they are (i) available, (ii) accessible, (iii) acceptable, and (iv)  adaptable:

(i) Availability signifies that these goods and services are made available to the affected population in sufficient quantity and quality;
(ii) Accessibility requires that these goods and services (1) are granted without discrimination to all in need, (2) are within safe reach and can be physically accessed by everyone, including vulnerable and marginalized groups, and (3) are known to the beneficiaries;
(iii) Acceptability refers to the need to provide goods and services that are culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender and age;
(iv)  Adaptability entails that these goods and services are provided in ways flexible enough to adapt to the change of needs in the different phases of emergency relief, reconstruction and, in the case of displaced persons, return.

During the immediate emergency phase, food, water, shelter, clothing, health services and sanitation are considered adequate if they ensure survival to all in need of them.

B.2.2 If food, water and sanitation, shelter, clothing, and health services are not available in sufficient quantities, they should be provided first to those most in need. The definition of need should be based and assessed on non-discriminatory and objective criteria.

B.2.3 If the host population, which has not been directly affected by the natural disaster, suffers from similar shortages of water and sanitation, shelter, clothing, and essential health services as the those affected by the natural disaster, relief should be provided to it on an equitable basis as well.

B.2.4 The right to shelter should be understood as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity. These criteria should be used as benchmarks in planning and implementing shelter programs, taking into account the different circumstances during and after the emergency phase.

B.2.5 Those affected by the natural disaster should be given access to psychosocial assistance and social services, when necessary. Special attention should be given to the health needs of women, including provisions of appropriate clothing and hygienic supplies, access to female health care providers and services, such as reproductive health care, as well as psychosocial care for victims of sexual and other abuses.

B.2.6 Special attention should also be given to the prevention of contagious and infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, among the affected population, particularly among those displaced by the disaster.


C.1 Education

C.1.1 The return of children, whether displaced or not, to schooling should be facilitated as early and as quickly as possible after the disaster. Education should respect their cultural identity, language and tradition.

C.1.2 Education should be compulsory and free at the primary level. Measures should be taken to ensure that education is not disrupted at higher levels when students, as a consequence of the disaster, can no longer afford such education.

C.1.3 Special efforts should be made to ensure the full and equal participation of women and girls affected by the natural disaster in educational programs.

C.2 Property and possession

C.2.1 Competent authorities should be requested to protect, to the extent possible, property and possessions left behind by persons or communities displaced by the natural disaster, against looting, destruction, and arbitrary or illegal appropriation, occupation or use.

C.2.2 Unused private property and possessions may be temporarily, but no longer than absolutely necessary, allocated to those displaced by the natural disaster. Competent authorities should be requested to ensure that owners of affected property are adequately compensated for such use. Due process guarantees and access to fair and impartial legal procedures should be assured for all parties.

C.2.3 The return of persons or communities displaced by the natural disaster to their property and possessions should be facilitated as soon as possible.

C.2.4 Owners, whose land deeds or property documents have been lost or damaged during the natural disaster or whose land boundaries have been destroyed, should be provided with accessible procedures to re-claim ownership of their original land and property without undue delay.

C.2.5 Legal procedures should be put in place to consider competing claims to land and property with due process guarantees and without delay. Access to an independent court or tribunal should be guaranteed if the decision is not accepted by both parties.

C.2.6 Specific arrangements should be made to enable women, particularly widows, as well as orphaned children to (re-)claim housing, land or property and to acquire housing or land title deeds in their own name.

C.2.7 Specific arrangements should be made to enable and facilitate recognition of claims to land title and ownership based on prolonged possession, in the absence of formal land titles, especially for indigenous peoples.

C.2.8 Appropriate measures should be taken to protect persons or communities affected by natural disasters, in particular the poor, women, members of minority groups or indigenous peoples, or those displaced, against undue or illegal attempts by landlords, speculators, local authorities and other actors to deprive them of their property and possessions.

C.2.9 Prohibitions to remain in or return to certain areas and/or to rebuild that are not based on law and, in the individual case, necessary for reasons of safety, health, disaster prevention, or the implementation of reconstruction and development schemes should not be supported. In all cases of prohibitions to remain or to return and rebuild measures should be taken to provide owners with due process guarantees, including the right to be heard and the right of access to an independent court or tribunal, as well as just compensation.

C.2.10 Should evictions become unavoidable in the course of measures mentioned above in A.1.3 and C.2.3, the following guarantees should be put in place:
(a) an opportunity for genuine consultation with those affected;
(b) adequate and reasonable notice prior to the scheduled date of eviction;
(c) information on the eviction and future use of land to be made available in reasonable time;
(d) government officials to be present during an eviction;
(e) all persons carrying out the eviction to be properly identified;
(f) evictions not to take place during bad weather or at night;
(g) provision of legal remedies; and
(h) provision of legal aid where needed to seek redress from the courts.

C.2.10 Evictions, in particular those ordered in the context of evacuations and of secondary occupants of property and possessions left behind by persons displaced by the natural disaster, should not render individuals homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights. Appropriate measures should be taken to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land is made available to those unable to provide for themselves.

C.3 Housing

C.3.1 Appropriate measures allowing for the speedy transition, without discrimination of any kind, from temporary or intermediate shelter to temporary or permanent housing, fulfilling the requirements of adequacy in international human rights law, should be taken as soon as possible.

C.3.2 The criteria for adequacy are: accessibility, affordability, habitability, security of tenure, cultural adequacy, suitability of location, and access to essential services such as health and education, as well as respect for safety standards aimed at reducing damage in cases of future disasters.

C.3.3 To ensure sustainable long-term planning of resettlement and reconstruction in the aftermaths of a natural disasters, all affected groups and persons, including women, indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities should be consulted and participate in the planning and implementation of housing programs. To the extent possible and provided that necessary safety standards are met, owner of destroyed houses should be allowed to decide on their own how to rebuild them.

C.4 Livelihood and work

C.4.1 Projects to restore economic activities, opportunities and livelihoods that are disrupted by the natural disaster should start as soon and as completely as possible. To the extent possible, such measures should already be taken during the emergency phase.

C.4.2 Where individuals are unable to return to previous sources of livelihood due to the natural disaster, appropriate measures including provision of re-training opportunities or micro-credits should be taken to provide without any discrimination of any kind as to race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, age, disability or other status.

C.4.3 Access to livelihoods and employment opportunities should be taken into account when planning temporary camps and relocation sites, as well as permanent re-housing for individuals displaced by the natural disaster.


D.1 Documentation

D.1.1 Organizations providing humanitarian assistance to persons affected by natural disasters should grant access to life-saving goods and services even in the absence of relevant documents or issue such documents without delay even during the emergency phase of the humanitarian action. Personal data collected and records established in this context shall be protected against misuse of any kind.

D.1.2 Appropriate measures to restore personal documentation, such as birth, marriage and death certificates; insurance certificates, passports, personal identification and travel documents; and education and health certificates, that have been lost or destroyed in a natural disaster, to persons affected by the natural disaster should be taken as early as possible, including during the emergency phase.

D.1.3 Women and men should be treated equally when documents of any kind are issued. Women should be issued documentation in their own names.

D.1.4 Unaccompanied and orphaned children should be issued documentation in their own names.

D.1.5 Loss of personal documentation should not be used to justify the denial of essential food and relief services; to prevent individuals from travelling to safe areas or from returning to their homes; or to impede their access to employment opportunities.

D.1.6 Loss of documents proving land tenure and ownership should not be used to impede property rights (Guidelines under C.2).

D.2 Freedom of movement and right to return

D.2.1 Persons displaced by natural disaster should be provided with the information necessary to exercise their right to freely decide where they want to live i.e. whether they want to return to their homes, to integrate where they are staying during their displacement or to resettle to another part of the country, in accordance with their right to freedom of movement.

D.2.2 Appropriate measures should be taken as soon as possible to establish conditions conducive to sustainable return in safety and dignity, as well as to provide the means, which allow persons displaced by the disaster to return to their homes or places of habitual residence, or to remain or resettle voluntarily in another part of the country. Conditions are considered sustainable if:

i.) people feel safe and secure, free from harassment and intimidation, as well as from unmitigated risks of further calamitous effects produced by natural hazards;
ii.) people have been able to repossess their properties or homes, and these have been adequately reconstructed or rehabilitated;
iii.) people can return to their life as normally as possible, with access to services, schools, livelihoods, employment, markets, etc without discrimination.

D.3 Family life and missing or dead relatives

D.3.1 Members of displaced families who wish to remain together should be allowed and assisted to do so, including during the emergency phase and in the context of return or resettlement.

D.3.2 Appropriate measures should be taken as early and quickly as possible to reestablish contacts between members of families that have been separated in the course of the disaster, and to reunite them without delay, particularly when children are involved.

D.3.3 Separated and unaccompanied children should be assisted in accordance with the best interests of the child; in particular, the placing of children in institutions should be avoided whenever possible.

D.3.4 Measures should be taken to establish the fate and whereabouts of missing relatives, and to inform the next of kin on the progress of the investigation and results obtained.

D.3.5 Measures should be taken to collect and identify the mortal remains of those deceased, prevent their despoliation or mutilation, and facilitate the return of the remains to the next of kin. If remains cannot be returned, for example, when the next of kin cannot be identified or contacted, they must be disposed of respectfully and in a manner which will help their future recovery and identification.

D.3.6 Cremation of unidentified bodies should be avoided. Instead, they should be stored or buried temporarily for future identification and return to families.

D.3.7 All burials should be conducted in a way that respects the dignity and privacy of the dead and of their living family members, including the possibility of recovery of the human remains for future identification and reburial if required, and taking into account local religious and cultural practices and beliefs.

D.3.8 Measures should be taken to protect funerary sites and monuments from desecration or disturbance.

D.3.9 Family members should be fully informed about the location of grave sites, and have full access to them. They should be given the opportunity to erect memorials and conduct religious ceremonies as needed.

D.3.10 Family members should have the opportunity to recover the remains of their dead for further forensic investigations and to dispose of them according to their own religious and cultural beliefs and practices.

D.4 Expression, assembly and association, and religion

D.4.1 Mechanisms should be established to enable communities to give feedback and raise complaints or grievances on the disaster relief, recovery and reconstruction response. Efforts should be made to ensure that women and persons with special needs such as children, older persons, disabled, single-headed households and members of religious and ethnic minority groups or indigenous peoples are specially consulted and can participate in all aspects of the disaster response. Persons affected by the natural disaster should be protected against adverse reaction for exchanging information or expressing their opinions and concerns regarding the disaster relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts. Opportunity should be provided for affected persons to conduct peaceful assemblies or to form associations for this purpose.

D.4.2 Religious traditions should be respected as appropriate when planning and implementing humanitarian assistance, including in the context of food assistance, health care services, and living and sanitary arrangements.

D.4.3 Opportunity should be provided for the exercise of religious faith in a manner that respects the rights and beliefs of others and does not incite discrimination, hostility or violence.

D.5 Electoral Rights

D.5.1 Measures should be taken to ensure that persons affected by the natural disaster can exercise their right to vote in elections and to be elected, in particular if they have been displaced. Such measures may include voter registration and arrangements for absentee voting.

[1] IASC. ( June 9, 2006). Protecting persons affected by natural disasters.  In IASC Operational guidelines on human rights and natural disasters. Geneva, Switzerland. Inter Agency Standing Committee.

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