Natural disasters

The effects of climate change include changes in the weather of Iceland. More intense rainfall, storms, changes in temperature, droughts, wildfires, more frequent landslides, more frequent floods, rising sea levels, and melting of glaciers are among the effects considered likely. Adaptation to climate change will need to include responses to natural disasters of various kinds.

The role of social service providers

In the Nordic countries, social service providers play an important role for municipalities in strengthening individual resilience and providing greater support and assistance to those in need. These include older people, children, and people with disabilities.

As a result, social service providers have important knowledge that may be useful in the preparation and implementation of natural disaster emergency services. However, there is little or no research or information on what role these service providers play when natural disasters occur in the Nordic countries.

Despite certain similarities between the countries, the preparation and role of specific persons and institutions vary. In Sweden, Finland and Norway, social service providers are specifically mentioned in the national legal framework of the when it comes to natural disasters. Certain alternative programs for social service providers also exist in these countries. These countries also have specific contingency plans for social service providers.

Neither Iceland nor Denmark mentions social service providers in the legal framework for natural disasters, and there are no specific action plans or guidelines for social service providers explicitly stating their role in periods of natural disasters.

While there is no specific mention of the role of the social services in legal frameworks in Denmark and Iceland, all public bodies and institutions in the Nordic countries are required to prepare for disasters. However, a good and effective disaster recovery plan is one that clearly defines the roles of those involved in the plan at all stages, whether in the control plan, preparation, response, or reconstruction.

That is why it may be a good idea to define the role of social service providers in legal frameworks and programs to ensure a smooth and rapid response where all parties know what their role is and when and how to intervene.

Different effects of natural disasters on different groups of society

Research shows that disasters caused by climate change have an unequal impact on different segments of society and are most harmful to older people, poor people, and children. Women make up the majority of older people living in poverty. In general, more women struggle with poverty than men and they bear more responsibility for child, family, and household care. 

Research also indicates that women who are used to caring roles, whether at work or at home, perform such jobs to a greater extent in society when natural disasters strike and afterwards, during reconstruction.

Other factors that affect people’s vulnerability to natural disasters include disability, people living alone who have little outside support, and race. People with limited support networks and physical impairments are often worse prepared for natural disasters, and their options and ability to evacuate are reduced. These people also find it more difficult to reintegrate into society after a disaster. People with disabilities who belong to other minorities find it even more difficult to have their needs assessed.

Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in the United States, highlighted the deep social divisions there and showed that it was not only a natural disaster, but also a political one. Most of the victims were marginalized groups; poor, black, and older people. It also proved easier for financially well-off people to escape, while poor people in New Orleans were less likely to own or use a car and therefore had a harder time leaving the area, and could not afford it.

The reasons why these groups come out of natural disasters worse than other social groups is due to exclusion and inequality when it comes to participation and decision-making in matters related to natural disasters, as well as having a worse position in society. Excluding these groups from development in policy-making and decision-making makes these groups the victims of their situation. The Government should use their knowledge and approach to the issue to promote a just transition in environmental and climate change issues.