In terms of daily life and the wellbeing of citizens, Scandinavia serves as an ideal model of how to do things right. Together or individually, the four nations known as Scandinavia — Norway, Sweden and Denmark — regularly top “world’s best” lists. In this article, I am examining Scandinavian responses to natural disasters.
For instance, the Nordic countries clock in at the top five positions in terms of literacy rates, while Norway and Sweden recently made the top 10 of the world’s healthiest countries.
In determining the health index of particular countries, researchers looked at various factors ranging from health risks, including tobacco use and obesity, to the availability of clean water. Natural disaster response is also a crucial part of the equation. And although myriad potential hazards exist in Scandinavia, the disasters that do occur are met with a swift response, minimizing damage and casualties.
Further, Nordic countries tend to strongly emphasize the importance of mental health care following a disaster, natural or otherwise. Sweden in particular is at the forefront of mental health strategy and innovation: In 2016, the Public Health Agency of Sweden implemented policies designed to boost mental health among the general public, and reduce suicide rates. This is especially relevant where natural disasters are concerned, as this sort of traumatic event can have long-lasting psychological effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal ideation.
Also by Beau Peters: Examining Scandinavian Mental Health
Let’s take a look at the role that mental healthcare plays in effective natural disaster response, and why Scandinavian countries excel in this arena.
The Prevalence of Natural Disasters in Scandinavia
Among the Scandinavian countries, Denmark is an outlier of sorts, as it enjoys somewhat of a mild marine west coast climate. In comparison, average temperatures in upper Scandinavia tend to be considerably lower, and daylight is scarce and/or nonexistent during the winter months. In Northern Norway, temperatures may reach upwards of 30°C (86° F) between June and August, considered the warmest months of the year.
Considering Scandinavia’s climate and weather patterns, it makes sense that the region is prone to natural disasters, including floods, avalanches, and ice storms. For its part, Norway is also home to several active volcanoes, the bulk of which are located in the Norwegian sea. And throughout Scandinavia, the potential dangers in the natural world are further compounded by climate change.
In 2019, researchers for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences stressed the need for increased public knowledge of extreme weather events, and how climate change plays a role. Fennoscandia, in particular, is considered a hotbed for potentially deadly natural disasters, including flooding and droughts.
Also by Beau Peters: Scandinavian Lessons for Everyday Life
Thus, climate change may ultimately catalyze natural disasters all over the world that are long overdue. Because of this, it’s up to Scandinavian governments and citizens alike to do their best to mitigate property damage and potential casualties. To that end, every facet of emergency care is considered, including rapid response times and beyond.
Quick Response Times and Necessities for Survival
No matter the disaster, be it an earthquake or severe winter storm, time is of crucial importance. In emergency response situations, relief teams address problems in a particular order, prioritizing search-and-rescue operations and emergency medical services. At the same time, aid workers without medical training should work to arrange for basic necessities, for first responders and victims alike. Those necessities may vary significantly depending on the type of natural disaster but may include food, clean water, shelter, and medicine.
And in times of disaster, Nordic countries typically look at the big picture. Along with providing direct emergency services and medical care to victims, the realm of social services is also taken into consideration. In regards to contingency planning and the organization of emergency management, Scandinavian countries are increasingly looking to the welfare state. Such considerations have been deemed essential tools for the decision-making process following a natural or man-made disaster.
Addressing Mental Health in the Aftermath of Disaster
It is in this regard that Scandinavia truly shines. Seemingly trivial social considerations like the welfare state and mental health aren’t overlooked in natural disaster response situations; rather, they play a major role in safeguarding public health at a national level.
Of course, the support of average citizens has long been a cornerstone of Scandinavian laws and social policies. In Sweden, for instance, policymakers believe that investing in mental health services at an early age can help increase workplace productivity. An estimated €7 billion is wasted every year through lost productivity and healthcare due to mental illness, in and out of Swedish workplaces.
Data indicates that mental health and worker productivity are inherently linked, and traumatic events that occur in the workplace can compound the issue. While workplace trauma may not pose as deadly a threat as a massive earthquake or landslide, it can still result in various psychological effects. And whatever the traumatic event, it’s abundantly clear that intervention and assistance are vitally important to the recovery process.
Examining Scandinavian responses to natural disasters – Final Thoughts
Many of Scandinavia’s best ideas were born out of the natural world. The region’s often-harsh climate has necessitated the mindful design of everything from footwear and various outdoor gear to disaster response. Within the Nordic countries, mental health, emergency medical care, and post-disaster treatment are equally balanced in disaster response situations.
Examining Scandinavian Responses to Natural Disasters, written exclusively for Daily Scandinavian by Beau Peters. Beau is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he has learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work. When he is not writing, he enjoys reading and trying new things.
Feature image (on top): From Norwegian disaster movie “The Wave”