The impact of armed conflict upon health is vast. Death and mutilation, in addition to the destruction of infrastructure, create environments in which famine and disease are rife, and in which economic resources are directed towards military ends rather than those meeting human health needs.
The result of these disruptions to health care facilities, coupled with population displacement, worsening hygiene and increases to crowding, means that the spread of preventable diseases and increase in morbidity and mortality rates remain high during times of armed conflict. And added to such physical burdens of ill-health, in many cases they can become a threat to family harmony, community cohesion, and personal development.
Human well-being is therefore not only a prerequisite to a functioning and healthy society but is also critical to its capacity to withstand future conflict, thereby making it an essential component to long-term peacebuilding initiatives. As health cuts across all sectors of society, it offers a model for collaboration between state ministries, public, private and traditional services, NGOs, civil society groups and the international community. And as a uniting force, it can also draw together families and communities to add to a sense of empowerment, social coherence, and cohesion.
As well as the physical impacts, the psychological effects of armed conflict are of equally devastating proportions. Extreme acts of violence can often result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other related mental health issues. In addition, the impacts of long-term exposure to violence can lead to further forms of violence, as well as to intergenerational trauma that remains in the grip of former hatreds.
It is of vital importance that survivors of armed conflict are helped to go on with their lives. For any peacebuilding process to be sustainable it is clear that psychological and social needs must be addressed within it. Along with more traditional physical and mental health programmes in hospitals and community mental health centres, psychological support can be offered across a wide variety of ways. This can include creative expression through the arts and storytelling; the development and promotion of self-help groups; assisting with the completion and reburial rituals; an emphasis on re-training, re-education and re-skilling; the reintegration and reunion of individuals dislocated from communities and families; counselling and group support; the reintegration and reunion of individuals dislocated from communities and families; information dissemination and connecting people to resources; and at times, simply focusing on creating a safe environment where those affected by conflict can meet, network, share experiences, and focus on establishing new routines.
It is thus clear that both physical and mental health play an integral part in a participatory approach to long-term peacebuilding.