Ethics in Disaster Situations Workshop
By Professor Roman Tandlich, Faculty of Pharmacy, Rhodes University and Faculty of Health Sciences, Technical University of Liberec, Czech Republic and regional director for Africa, The International Emergency Management Society, Brussels, Belgium
Disaster situations change the way that social and ecological systems function. They lead disruptions of normal services delivery such as water and sanitation provision, interruptions in communications and operation of lifelines and to breakdown in other essential elements of modern human societies. These interruptions often have major knock-on effects on the most vulnerable segments of the disaster-affected population. In addition, non-human components of the environment are also impacted by disasters eg decimation of livestock and the potential for human contact with carcasses and the spread of disease. As disaster (risk) management practitioners (DMPs) spearhead the execution of the activities during the disaster management cycle, they are commonly faced with many challenges in the scope of their professional practice. Balancing needs of various stakeholders, the time-sensitive nature of the unit operations of disaster management activities and other considerations demand that DMPs commonly make difficult choices and take decisions with wide-reaching implications.
Landscape of a disaster (risk) management as a professional discipline is therefore complex. Disaster risk reduction and related activities are focused on the reduction of the impacts of disasters and the reduction/prevention of harm to people, non-human elements of the environment, lifelines and so on. As a result, actions by DMPs are by nature aimed at the increasing of the “common good” and the improvement of the human condition. DMPs always must ensure that they act with a strong the sense of right and wrong in the execution of their professional duties. Considerations such as these set out the ethical scope of the practice of DMPs.
Ethical considerations for a disaster management practitioner
All activities that DMPs carry out during the disaster management cycle must be ethical in nature, ie they must lead to minimising harm and elimination or limiting of human suffering. Unit operations, in this context, include damage assessment, needs analysis and aid requirements, protection of the affected populations and disaster management personnel. To ensure ethical behaviour and provide recourse in the case of any (perceived) misconduct by DMPs in the execution of their duties and functions, ethical standards have been formulated that govern the professional conduct of all DMPs. Such standards can be applicable in the context of a particular organisation and/or country. Examples include the Professional Conduct of Disaster Management Institute of Southern Africa (DMISA, 2019) and Standards of Conduct for International Civil Service (UN/UNESCO, undated). Other standards have been and continue to be developed that cut across sectors, countries and organisations eg such as the Sphere Handbook (Sphere, 2018).
DMPs aim to decrease the probability of negative impacts of disasters through collaboration with the community at risk and through development of preventive measures that stimulate participatory approach to disaster (risk) management. Special attention must be paid by DMPs to guaranteeing and preserving basic human rights of population(s) that are at risk or that have been negatively affected by disasters. Minimising harm and acting with a strong sense of right and wrong, that are culturally-appropriate for a given disaster context, places immense ethical challenges on the DMPs. In addition, complex cultural circumstances, communication challenges and other factors create an ethical reality that is ever-evolving and shifting, requiring the DMPs to continuously develop their soft skills and knowledge of ethics in the scope of their practice.
In this context, it is critical to create platforms for continuous professional development (CPD) in the field of disaster management ethics in South Africa and internationally. Many stakeholders have been involved in activities in this domain for many years and many excellent opportunities already exist. However, some challenges in disaster risk management on the African continent and internationally transcend national border and/or require multi-national approach and exchange of best practices/experiences. One such platform is provided by the International Emergency Management Society (TIEMS), which is an international non-governmental organisation registered in Belgium (TIEMS, 2019). It has been working on disaster and emergency management projects worldwide since 1993.
Currently, TIEMS is in the process to establish an international platform for certification of emergency managers and DMPs. One of the elements of this strategy is the establishment of the courses on ethics in disaster situations. These courses will be spearheaded by the TIEMS chapters and stakeholders across Africa. The process of course development is currently underway and its first pinnacle will be the Workshop on Ethics in Disaster situations. It will be held immediately following the 2019 Annual DMISA conference between 20 and 21 September 2019 at Rhodes University in Makhanda, Eastern Cape Province. The author of this article can be contacted for further details.
Looking forward to seeing you all at the DMISA annual conference and possibly in the Eastern Cape right after that!