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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Displaced Maldivians struggle to recover from the tsunami

© UNICEF/HQ05-0244/Pirozzi
Anvar Sobahu, 15,and a friend, Abdul, 13, search for belongings on Gemendhoo Island, which was destroyed by the tsunami

MALE, Maldives, 16 February 2005 – About five per cent of Maldives’ population of 300,000 have been made homeless by December’s tsunami disaster. Helping children and their families get back on their feet is one of UNICEF’s top priorities.

Gemendhoo Island in the Dhaalu Atoll is among the most affected. Roofless houses and uprooted trees are sprawling across the narrow streets. Half of the island’s rowing dinghies are turned into a jumble of broken concrete and splintered furniture.

Nearly 500 displaced people have been taken in by host families despite the crowded living condition. Abdu Sattar’s family is one of the few who opted for a tent outside the island’s community centre. Abdu’s livelihood was fishing - he had a good trade supplying fish to two resorts - but now one of his boats is completely smashed.

“We have had a lot of help,” says Abdu while pointing at a UNICEF-donated wheelbarrow, loaded with bottles of drinking water. Inside his tent, daily necessities such as buckets, collapsible jerry cans, soap, and disinfectant, all provided by UNICEF, are neatly stored.

© UNICEF/HQ05-0265/Pirozzi
Hawa Zaira and her husband Abdul Rashid with one of their daughters, Animath, 5, mourn the loss of Animath’s twin sister, Maryam. Maryam was swept away by the tsunami near their home on the island of Mundoo.

In the next atoll south, more than 600 people, including Abdul Rashid and his family, are now living in an abandoned garment factory. He and his wife, Hawa Zahira, have eight children. Five-year old Animath is their youngest daughter. As the water ravaging through their home, Abdul took Animath on his shoulders to struggle through the killer waves while her twin sister Maryam lost hold of her mother’s hand and was swept away.

Underlying the grief there is the uncertainty about what the future holds, compounded by the confusion about why the tsunami hit them, and the largely unspoken fear of a recurrence of the disaster. “The first step in assisting people’s recovery from anxiety is for a reliable source to provide them with basic, accurate information, and for adults to know how they can help their children and community members overcome grief and distress,” says UNICEF Child Protection Officer, Mohamed Naeem.

© UNICEF/HQ05-0245/Giacomo Pirozzi
Anvar Sobahu pushes a small boat filled with belongings from his former home on Gemendhoo Island. Anvar comes to Gemendhoo each day to salvage belongings.

Volunteering over their weekends, psychotherapists and counselors from Male are visiting the worst affected islands to help bring the normalcy back to the children’s lives. The health professionals talk with boys and girls aged 12-14, and encourage them to participate in games, play activities and drawing pictures to express their feelings. 

“Many of the parents feel relieved after they talk to the health professionals. They want to know how to help each other, especially those who have lost children,” reports Naeem. “Technical assistance from an agency like UNICEF is very valuable - but the actual work must be done by Maldivians themselves.”



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