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In from the cold: Sheltering Tajik children from disaster with early childhood care

© UNICEF video
Nargis Juraeva plays with one of her sons at her home in Isfara, Tajikistan. In 2008, the country suffered its harshest winter in three decades, with hundreds of thousands of people facing a lack of food and supplies.

By Steve Nettleton

This year's International Day for Disaster Reduction, 8 October, arrives in the wake of a series of earthquakes, cyclones and hurricanes that have highlighted the urgent need to reduce disaster risk. The following story marks the occasion.

ISFARA, Tajikistan, 7 October 2008 – Almost a year ago, Nargis Juraeva began the winter of 2007 happily. She gave birth to twin sons Hasan and Hussein last November, doubling the number of her children from two to four. But her newfound joy soon turned to anxiety.

In January 2008, temperatures here plummeted to minus-20 degrees Celsius and below. Water, electricity and heating systems failed, and Tajik families had to struggle to stay healthy. Tajikistan was suffering its harshest winter in three decades, with hundreds of thousands of people enduring a lack of food and supplies.

Severe weather conditions

“We faced a lot of problems due to water shortages since the freezing cold destroyed water pumps, and the central heating system didn’t work,” Ms. Juraeva recalled. “We tried to keep the room warm with other heating devices. My main fear was not to let the babies get cold.”

© UNICEF video
Children play at school in Isfara, Tajikistan, where UNICEF helped to train an emergency response team providing psychological care and educational activities for young children affected by the winter crisis.

With support from her husband, Juraev Shokirjon, the family survived the cold. They installed gas heaters and bundled the babies in heavy flannel clothes. The twin boys seem to be developing properly.

The family is now preparing for the coming winter, stocking up on water containers and planning to buy a generator.

Impact on children

While families in Tajikistan found ways to address their physical needs and get through the winter, health experts worry that many young children may be receiving too little care for psychological and emotional problems.

“Tajikistan is very prone to natural disasters, whether they be an earthquake, flood, harsh winter, etc.,” said Dr. Gulrabo Boboeva, the deputy chief of Central Isfara Hospital. “These and other types of emergencies affect children, and if they are not paid attention to at an early age, they may harm and negatively impact child development.”

This situation is compounded in Tajikistan, where even in normal times, there are very few early childhood development programmes to stimulate learning and emotional growth.

Psychological and educational help

In the wake of the crisis last winter, UNICEF helped to train an emergency response team – composed of health workers, pre-school teachers, mothers and other volunteers – to provide psychological care and educational activities for children six years of age and younger in the wake of a disaster.

UNICEF is also working with the government to integrate early-childhood activities into national health programmes. The project aims to eventually develop community-based early-childhood care programmes across the country.

Through such efforts, UNICEF and its partners aim to reduce the impact of future emergencies, either this winter or in the coming years.

For Ms. Juraeva, early child care starts with the family itself. “I think for both physical and psychological development of a child, the most important thing is education and relations to family,” said Ms. Juraeva. “It is my strong belief that family has a significant role in a child’s life.”





UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton looks at a UNICEF-supported early childhood programme launched in Tajikistan after the country’s winter crisis.
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