communities including High River
and Calgary is estimated at more
than $5 billion. It’s Canada’s most
costly natural disaster. The damage
in Slave Lake, when fires burned for
three days beginning May 14, 2011,
has been pegged at $750 million.
Beneath these weighty numbers
is an immeasurable emotional toll.
While there is a sunny side of the
street, there is a darker side, too.
Natural disasters can lead to long-term psychological issues for people
who are affected, though symptoms
can subside with the right support,
says Dr. Michael Trew, Alberta’s chief
addiction and mental health officer.
Anxiety, depression, financial worries
and other concerns are common after
people live through a disaster.
No one knows exactly how many
people were adversely affected by
recent disasters in Alberta.
Not everyone seeks help, making it
hard to determine exactly the
breadth of concerns. This also
makes it hard for government
and community groups to
evaluate their responses to disasters.
Communities rebuild with
Time and again after disasters, people
help to lift others up with support
Volunteering is an important
element of community health and an
even bigger part of rebuilding. “There
is a really healthy mindset in Canada,
but especially in Alberta, where
we might be closer to the pioneer
generation, that as a community, we
are stronger when we work together,”
Jim Graham, a retiree with the
High River Renew Committee,
Making community recovery possible
Following devastating bushfires in Victoria, Australia in February 2009, the state government
asked Penelope Hawe to review how people responded to the disaster. The review was used to
develop a recovery strategy that would build community resilience.
Hawe, a researcher with the Population Health Intervention Research Centre at the University
of Calgary, noted the success of community-based recovery strategies, among other things,
1. Involving communities in all decision-making
2. Freeing up community members so they can take part
3. Recognizing that people have different responses and needs following a disaster
4. Recognizing that strong communities have diverse activities, opportunities and people
6. Using proactive and proven approaches in certain settings, for example schools
7. Creating a sense of safety and security
8. Strengthening or creating resources for physical, economic, social psychological and
9. Reaching all parts of the community
10. Making communities better not merely replacing what existed.
Source: Community recovery after the February 2009 Victorian bushfires: a rapid review, copyright The Victorian Department of Human Services,