Better prepare for the difficult aftermath of the floods

“It is tearing apart families and the social fabric by displacing communities and isolating people. There is a lot of suffering, sometimes resulting in suicide, but we still don’t talk about it much,” notes Philippe Gachon, general director of the Réseau Inondations InterSectoriel du Québec (RIISQ) and co-responsible for the symposium Underestimated natural risks? , which will be held this week at the Acfas Congress.

Some farmers not only lose their livelihood, but also have to deal with soil pollution. Residents lose their homes, get into debt and also experience psychological problems.

“People will need more than 10 years to recover, therefore it is necessary from the intervention to take into account the importance of what they are going through, in addition to the loss of their property, and to provide them with psychosocial support to help them through it,” recalls Professor Gachon.

Increasing funding and better targeting this aid to build a more resilient future for the population is a measure also considered in the new United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) report: ” Doing more of the same will not be enough. It will require a transformation of the value of governance systems and the way systemic risk is understood and addressed.”

“Flooding is more than just having water in our basement. It’s a victim’s life that doesn’t disappear with the withdrawal of water, but lasts for years,” Danielle Maltais, director of the Institutional Research Chair in Traumatic Events, Mental Health and Resilience at the University of Quebec, told Chicoutimi.

In a recent study, which she presented at the symposium and will be published in the fall, the social work researcher describes the role of secondary stressors: job loss, debt, relocation, long compensation and other difficulties. All this contributes directly to the anxiety, psychological distress and also to the post-traumatic shock that people experience, as evidenced by the testimonials she collected from the victims of the floods of 2019.

By exploring the experiences of residents of affected municipalities, the researcher hopes to help understand how they can better help them.

“Whether it is a flood, a fire or a tornado, the victims experience the same stress,” recalls Pre Maltais. However, the ability of everyone to get through this long ordeal can be improved through better support from stakeholders, insurers and governments.

When the water recedes

The unprecedented magnitude of the 2019 floods has marked the collective imagination in Quebec, with more than 40 days of rising water at high currents and the overnight evacuation of some residents of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lake.

This event, which happened just two years after other major floods, prompted the Quebec government to establish a Special Intervention Zone (HIS) in 2019 – a decree imposing a moratorium on construction, but also on the reconstruction of buildings. which were destroyed by a flood.

Quebec has also made changes to disaster compensation. However, this has made many unhappy, as risk management and environmental finance specialist Michael Bourdeau-Brien realizes.

“Much of the damage still rests on the victims’ shoulders, as evidenced by the new compensation rules aimed at restoring the minimum. The feeling of injustice is the variable that emerges most often from our research,” notes the professor of public administration at the Université Laval.

Together with his colleague Mathieu Boudreault, professor of actuarial science at UQAM, he has also studied the costs of successive floods and the financial consequences of the cap of $100,000 for life, also set by the government of Quebec, in April. 2019.

Their modeling updates the financial vulnerabilities of the victims and shows the inadequacy of this program for citizens who do not have access to flood insurance. In addition, insolvency, coupled with over-indebtedness and the depletion of financial resources, may threaten those who will experience repeated flooding in the coming years. With dramatic consequences for their mental health.

“This government measure significantly increases the risk of household insolvency; an underestimated risk and lower than the actual damage that should include loss of wages and health problems,” the researcher underlines.

In other words, many compensation programs focus only on the direct financial impact of flooding and do not take human damage into account. “That’s why they rate the consequences of these kinds of natural disasters downwards,” concludes the researcher.

Injustice, finance and human damage

Victims “are twice as likely to have poor mental health. There is also three times more anxiety and five times more post-traumatic stress when the sense of injustice manifests itself,” notes Professor Bourdeau-Brien.

The questionnaire he had completed by 680 residents of areas that were flooded in 2019 shows that when people have suffered material damage, their answers reflect heightened anxiety, depressive episodes and trauma.

And this, despite the potential stress associated with Covid-19 – the second part of the questionnaire was conducted 18 months after the floods, i.e. during the pandemic. “Some problems persist, and we find that among people who have experienced multiple floods, there are more mental health problems,” notes Michael Bourdeau-Brien.

It also has to do with the amount of loss. “Up to nine times more likely to experience post-traumatic shock when the loss is estimated to be more than $50,000,” the researcher added.

Programs to facilitate recovery

Danielle Maltais, from UQAC, reports on certain initiatives that are likely to better support flood victims. For example, the municipality of Saint-André d’Argenteuil provided the victims of the 2019 disasters with two workers whose task it was to help people complete the damage declaration forms requested by the ministry. “This type of document is complicated to complete. Living in uncertainty adds an element of stress,” explains the researcher.

In Gatineau, the relocation committee of a community organization has set up a meeting with the health services (CIUSSS), the city and several other partners to find affordable housing for the victims. Elsewhere, a team of doctors and nurses has been mobilized to meet the specific needs of the victims, particularly in the area of ​​psychological health.

“In Quebec we are good at interventions, less at prevention and follow-up. Help withdraws pretty quickly. By simply listening to the needs of the victims and supporting them in their efforts, it contributes to a faster return to health,” recalls the Pre Maltais.

For this we have to stop working in silos. “We need to continue to document what is happening after the floods and rethink the coordination of interventions globally, among all stakeholders, from involved ministries to insurers, through social work teams, to pool expertise to respond better and more locally,” adds to. Philippe Gachon.

Especially since climate change is increasing the number of extreme events as our society ages, greatly increasing vulnerability to rising water levels and its consequences.

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