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 Friday 06 November 2009
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INDONESIA: Quake survivors struggle with trauma

Photo: Jefri Aries/IRIN
An aid worker helps a child traumatised by the West Sumatra quake to play games and relieve stress at Bungus Village, West Sumatra
PADANG, 6 October 2009 (IRIN) - Daniel Himawan, 11, stood silently on the front porch as his mother swept the floor of their house, which was damaged in the earthquake that devastated Indonesia's West Sumatra province.

“I'm scared that another big earthquake will hit again,” said Himawan, a sixth-grader.

His mother, Elisa, said since the 7.6 magnitude earthquake tore down the side wall of their house in the provincial capital, Padang, he was jittery. “Whenever there's an aftershock, he always tries to run out,” she said.

The 30 September quake left 625 people dead and 295 missing, presumed dead. With many bodies still trapped under the rubble of buildings, officials said the death toll could be higher.

With relief efforts focusing on survivors after search operations were called off on 5 October, the government and humanitarian groups have deployed workers to help people recover.

In Padang Pariaman district, one of the worst-hit, symptoms of trauma and stress were evident among quake survivors, many of whose homes were destroyed, said Ridwan Gustiana, a doctor working for the local Ibu Foundation Aid group.

“They panic easily. Some of them complained of feeling weak and unable to sleep, but when we checked, there was nothing wrong with their physical condition,” Gustiana told IRIN.

“The slow arrival of aid is making things worse for survivors,” he added.

Photo: Jefri Aries/IRIN
A child sits alone amid the ruins of a collapsed building in Padang, West Sumatra
Vulnerable children

Experts say children are especially vulnerable to post-disaster trauma, with symptoms such as sleep difficulties, bad dreams and a tendency to get angry easily.

“During the emergency phase, in which saving lives is a priority, children are often neglected,” Seto Mulyadi, chairman of Indonesia's Commission on Child Protection, told IRIN.

“Hopefully, now the evacuation phase is over, more attention will be paid to the welfare of children,” he added.

A 10-member team dispatched by the commission has been in Padang Pariaman since 2 October to provide psycho-social help to children.

The team has set up a centre called Pondok Anak Ceria (Cheerful Children's House), where children can play, sing and listen to stories.

Christian aid group World Vision said child survivors are at risk of long-term psychological distress or trauma without urgent help.

As part of its relief plan in West Sumatra, it will open 13 child-friendly spaces, where children can play and learn basic skills to cope with the shocks and losses they have experienced, and receive informal education.

“It is very important to give children a safe place where they can play, to provide them with a sense of stability, routine, normalcy, to get them with their friends and away from the distress all around them," Tamara Tutnjevic, child protection adviser for the organisation's Asia Pacific region, said.

Aid groups say schools in particular provide a sense of normalcy for children in times of disaster. Schools in Padang reopened on 5 October, but the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said only 68,000 children, or 40 percent, showed up.

UNICEF has set up the first of 250 classroom tents to provide temporary learning areas in the city.

“This is an important sign that life will return to normal for children affected by this tragedy,” said UNICEF Country Representative in Indonesia, Angela Kearney.

“Many children I have met amidst the shattered buildings of Padang expressed their fears for the future – they are worried about more shocks, about losing their homes, and about never going back to school again,” Kearney said in a statement.


Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) Children, (PLUSNEWS) Education, (PLUSNEWS) Health & Nutrition, (PLUSNEWS) Natural Disasters


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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