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Psycho-social services help Pakistan flood survivors cope with devastation

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Zaidi
Nighat Sultan conducts a one-to-one counselling session with Umair, 7, at a child-friendly space in Pakistan.

By Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani

KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA, Pakistan, 26 October 2010 – In a disaster, it is always children who pay the highest price. For Umair, 7, a victim of the recent floods in Pakistan, that price was the tragic loss of his mother.

“While Umair and his mother were still inside their mud house, the roof collapsed on top of them. Umair survived but his mother was hurt and later died because of complications from hepatitis C,” says Nighat Sultan, a child psychologist working for the Centre of Excellence for Rural Development, a non-governmental organization UNICEF partner here in Pakistan’s north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Counselling and play therapy

“Umair was identified in the camp by our child protection monitor three weeks ago,” adds Ms. Sultan. “He was withdrawn and mute, and would turn very aggressive if approached.”

With intensive psycho-social support, including counselling sessions and play therapy at a UNICEF-supported ‘child-friendly space,’ Umair’s condition has slowly improved. Now he is more interactive and likes to take part in different activities.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Zaidi
Sobia, now 14, is married to Rooh Ullah, 18, and is eight months pregnant.

“Losing his mother and home and the protective extended family network has been very traumatic,” says Ms. Sultan. “He needs regular psycho-social support. Otherwise, it will be extremely difficult for him to cope and lead a normal life.”

Disastrous impact

Young Sobia’s story is equally heart-wrenching. She lives in a camp for flood survivors with her husband and in-laws. Barely 13 when she was married, she’s never been to school. The ravages of the floods have taken their toll on Sobia, who is currently suffering from severe anaemia and exhaustion. Adding to her delicate condition, she is nearly eight months pregnant.

Her father-in-law, Noor Uddin, explains that after his wife died last year, his eldest son, 18, was married to Sobia so that she could look after the home and the family’s younger children. With tears in his eyes he adds: “I have lost everything. Whatever I had made for my son’s wedding was also lost. Many families have gone back and are rebuilding their homes, but I am a poor man and have no resources to restart my life. I don’t know how I will look after my family.”

In the aftermath of the floods, displaced families have been affected physically, psychologically, emotionally, socially and economically. Floods have destroyed homes, splintered communities and exposed children and women like Umair and Sobia to physical danger, emotional trauma and extreme deprivation.

This situation – combined with harmful social practices like early and forced marriages, child labor, child abuse, neglect and exploitation – has made a disastrous impact on the lives of millions of women and children in Pakistan.

Providing support

UNICEF and its partners are working to combat these devastating problems by setting up 500 static and 100 mobile child-friendly spaces in flood-affected areas across Pakistan. Such interventions ensure that vulnerable children have access to a protective environment. Moreover, psycho-social support helps these children cope with the stressful post-flood environment.

Similarly, child protection monitoring networks provide young women and girls like Sobia with medical care, psychological support and social assistance.



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