Guest Post: Children need support in wake of natural disasters

September 6, 2013 Off By Laura TMOT
An estimated 77 million children under the age of 15, on average, have experienced a natural disaster or an armed conflict in their lives every year between 1991 and 2000. These millions of children have lost their family members and friends, lost their homes, been injured, witnessed unspeakable violence and have suffered horrible psychological traumas.

Taking Care of the Children

When a natural disaster affects a community, it can be incredibly traumatising for everyone, especially the young people. During a natural disaster, children will be disturbed from their routine and will be thrust into situations that are scary and uncertain. They might lose friends and family members and they will experience feelings of pain, stress and anxiety.

For example, after the 2001 earthquake in El Salvador there were many children who did not have a place to life or any type of security. They were not able to play, they had no normal routine and their family members were so stressed out that they were unable to care for them. When children are put in this position, unfortunately they are put at risk for attempted abduction and sexual abuse.

How Children React to Disaster

When children have gone through a disaster, they will experience a number of reactions. Toddlers might start to regress in their behaviour, forgetting toilet training and other learned behaviours. They might also exhibit a decrease in appetite and they will often suffer from nightmares and be very clingy.

School age children will also often suffer from nightmares, as well as increased hostility with their siblings and playmates. They might withdraw from school or their peers, exhibit apathy and have trouble sleeping.

In adolescence, they might also begin to experiment with risk-taking behaviours and avoid responsible behaviours.

Encouraging Recovery

It is important to listen to the children of the community so that the threats to their safety can be identified and they can be aided in their recovery. However, often the adults in the community are too traumatised to do this themselves. Helping children to express themselves in a safe place and re-establishing routine (such as going to school) is very important.

For example, a survey was done of 315 children from camps in Sierra Leone who were showing signs of trauma such as nightmares and flashbacks. After four weeks of attending school classes where they were encouraged to draw and tell stories, their symptoms had reduced in all but 30 of them. This is why reopening schools and providing counselling services can be so important for children’s recovery.

To find out more about Plan UK’s efforts to support children after natural disasters, visit their website at www.plan-uk.org to find out more about child sponsorship.