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In the wake of quakes, emotional aid proves hardest to deliver

As a new reality sinks in, signs of trauma become more visible

Read the latest on UNICEF emergency relief efforts from the field.

Read other press releases on the Indian earthquake.

16 February 2001: In the small village of Chandia in the India quake zone, it doesn’t take much to send a four-year-old boy screaming into his mothers arms - just the visit of a stranger. In a village nearby, doctors report a high incidence of hyper-tension in otherwise healthy women. And health workers fanning out across quake-struck Gujarat to deliver measles vaccine say the condition they most encounter is a mixture of fear, worry and uncertainty.

The United Nations Children’s Fund said today that fresh anecdotal evidence from the quake zone in India illustrates how the emotional after-effects of disaster are often much harder to identify and address than more rudimentary needs such as food and shelter. And it said overcoming trauma could well turn out to be the real challenge of the recovery process.

“The relief effort by the government, by NGOs and by the people themselves has been fantastic,” said Maria Calivis, the chief of UNICEF in India, who visited the quake zone last week. “But emotional relief for the survivors is proving harder to deliver. It’s a concern that’s creeping into all our work right now.”

In random encounters with a dozen health teams delivering measles vaccine throughout the quake zone this week, UNICEF staff heard consistent reports of post-disaster stress in children and adults alike. The physicians said people expressed feelings of deep uncertainty about the future, and lingering fear about another quake. Conversations with villagers also revealed that many remain sleeping outdoors at night despite the fact that their homes escaped the quake undamaged.

“News that a second big quake struck in El Salvador this week can’t be helping,” Calivis said. She noted that earthquakes around the world have been in the headlines continuously for five straight weeks. “Even children quite distant from these quakes are being impacted,” she added, noting that media discussion of the high quake risk across northern India had not escaped most school children.

UNICEF said it was modifying its own approaches to providing psychosocial support to take account of the widespread signs of trauma emerging from the quake-affected area. In a training session this week designed to help teachers identify the signs of post-quake trauma in children, for example, a UNICEF psychosocial specialist wound up conducting an impromptu counseling session for the teachers themselves.

“This reality is that everyone is the quake zone is under stress and coping with loss,” Calivis said. “While so many other aspects of relief and rehabilitation are moving forward, we can’t afford to overlook the great need for emotional support that still exists.”

UNICEF said it would work with state government and with NGO partners to help ensure that teachers, health workers and others who deal directly with children had opportunities to heal their own wounds before trying to help others.

* * * * *

For further information, please contact:

Liza Barrie, Chief, UNICEF Media, New York, (212) 326-7593

Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF Media, New York, (212) 326-7269

Lynn Geldof, UNICEF Media, Geneva, (41 22) 909-5531


UNICEF continues its work in Gujarat Thurs., 24 January 2002
In India, young earthquake survivors return to school Thurs,14 June 2001
Immunizations begin in quake zone
Tues, 13 February 2001
UNICEF wary of post-quake international adoptions Fri, 9 February 2001
Comments by Maria Calvis, UNICEF, from Gujarat Tuesday, 6 February 2001
Half of all schools damaged or destroyed in India quake zone Mon, 5 February 2001
Emergency Update, Monday, 29 January 2001
UNICEF delivers drugs to quake area, assesses impact on children Mon, 29 Jan. 2001
On the ground in India, UNICEF responds to quake Sat, 27 January 2001