Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Children struggle to forget the day the earth shook


By Muhammad Sadaqat

ABBOTTABAD: Children in earthquake-affected areas of Hazara Division are suffering from psychological trauma after the devastating earthquake that ripped through various parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan on October 26.

The unofficial death toll in the disaster stands at 44 killed and 300 injured. Hundreds of houses were either destroyed or partially damaged in Torghar, Kohistan, Battagram, Mansehra, Abbottabad and Haripur.

However, the natural calamity has left deep psychological scars on children. According to parents and teachers, children are still haunted by the memory of the temblor.

“They rush out of the school in distress whenever they feel even a mild movement on the CGI sheet roofed school,” said Sultan Khan, a schoolteacher at Government Primary School in Gheton.

“It is therefore harder for them to forget the October 26 earthquake,” he added. Babar Khan, another senior primary schoolteacher, told The Express Tribune frequent aftershocks have led students to believe there will be another earthquake. “This is distracting students from their studies,” he said.

Babar added cracks in school buildings and houses have created the illusion among children that their lives are on the verge of collapse.

A mother’s fear

Hifzoon Bibi, whose husband died in the earthquake, said she is living with her eight children and her mother-in-law in a makeshift tent.

“The house is completely damaged,” he said. “However, it is upsetting to see my children dealing with the loss of their father and our house.”

According to Hifzoon Bibi, she is not worried about receiving compensation from the government. “My main concern is how to bring my children out of this psychological trauma,” he added.

Unseen effects

Social activist Rizwanullah told The Express Tribune the earthquake has left deep scars on people’s lives. “We need to reach out to children to help them regain interest in life,” he said. “This is just as important as relief work.”

Rizwanullah emphasised on the need to help children who are suffering from trauma, so they can have a brighter future. “Before the calamity, people were all busy with their lives,” he said. “But now, many of them are reliving the disaster and are expecting an even bleaker future.”

Taj Khan, a local, said many people have lost their homes and livestock. “Young people lost everything in the blink of an eye,” he said. “That’s why they are suffering from trauma.”

Shattered lives

Two NGOs have distributed food and other relief items in Torghar. However, insiders claim no initiatives have been taken to ensure the psychological health of villagers, especially children.

When contacted, District Education Officer Fida Muhammad Khan told The Express Tribune at least 17 schools were partially damaged by the earthquake in Torghar. “However, students are still attending their classes in these buildings,” said Fida Muhammad. “A report has been already sent to the relevant authorities.”

Action plan

Clinical Psychologist at Human Development Organisation Dr Sahira Khan told The Express Tribune constant anxiety, flashbacks and nightmares are just some of the psychological issues children face after a traumatic experience.

“Children need psychotherapeutic services to help them live a normal life,” she said. “If we don’t act promptly, the existing symptoms could turn into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and worsen their condition.”

Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2015.
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