The ethics of disaster research
Stakeholders in the developing world seem to take a more sophisticated view than the knee-jerk accusation of exploitation. For one thing -- as an article by Sri Lankan researchers in the Lancet pointed out a couple of years ago -- some disaster research has revealed that some well-intentioned psychological counseling offered to disaster victims disasters is useless or even harmful. Disaster research is like emergency research: the predicament of the participants may open the door for exploitation, but such research is also useful and could be ethically conducted if appropriate protections are proposed and enforced.
Sri Lanka seems in fact to be taking the lead in the ethics of disaster research. The Institute for Research and Development last month organized an international conference with the title, 'Disaster Related Research Ethics: Developing world Perspective'. For a welcome change, 'international' here meant participants from south-east Asian countries affected by the recent tsunami were invited, rather than the usual suspects from the Eastern United States and Geneva. Members of the conference have formed a working group that aims to craft guidelines of the ethics of disaster research. Standard ethics guideline manufacturers -- such as the WHO or UNESCO -- should take note.