Children and Megadisasters: Lessons Learned in the New Millennium
Hurricane Katrina is America’s most recent encounter with a megadisaster. But what made it a megadisaster instead of just another category 3 hurricane of the type that seasonally exists in the Gulf of Mexico? Katrina was not the largest or strongest hurricane to strike the United States mainland in the recent past, but its effects were devastating and wide reaching beyond our wildest nightmares, far beyond those of Hurricane Andrew (1992), a category 5 hurricane that scoured much of Florida and the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina’s track directly targeted gaping vulnerabilities in infrastructure and society, and set in motion a series of events that culminated in the deaths of nearly 2000 people, resulted in hundreds of missing individuals, and caused a potential economic impact of up to $150 billion. The disruption of people’s lives was immeasurable, as was the impact on the long-term physical and mental health of the victims, which continues today. Katrina also led to a substantial decline in the confidence that the public has in its government to provide essential services during a disaster. Children are among the most susceptible members of a community when catastrophes such as these strike because of their dependent nature as well as their physiologic and psychological vulnerability. Children affected by Katrina were no exception. Persistent critical gaps exist in the ability to prepare for and respond to the needs of the youngest victims. These were clearly exposed as children endured an at times ineffectual disaster response followed by a stressful recovery that is still ongoing. An analysis of the issues that faced children during this event and some others from the recent past may help society reduce the impact of such disasters on children in the future. This article focuses on a few of the major shortfalls in the care of children that have become especially apparent in the last few years: Facilitating evacuation; Providing shelter; Caring for those with special medical needs; Addressing mental health needs.
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