Se­ri­ous, long-last­ing im­pact of dis­as­ter on chil­dren

The East African - - OUTLOOK - By VA­LERIE STRAUSS The Wash­ing­ton Post

CHIL­DREN CAUGHT in nat­u­ral or man-made dis­as­ters can suf­fer from trauma and be­reave­ment for far longer than adults re­alise, and this can af­fect not only how well they per­form at school but also the tra­jec­tory of their lives, re­searchers have said.

Flood­wa­ters even­tu­ally re­cede, power is re­stored, build­ings are re­paired and daily rou­tines be­gin again, but many chil­dren strug­gle, find­ing it dif­fi­cult to con­cen­trate, do school­work and sleep.

Some are scared to leave home for school, fear­ful that some­thing will hap­pen to them or their fam­i­lies. And at school, some will act out, lead­ing to suspension and ex­pul­sion, while oth­ers can­not fo­cus or con­cen­trate, said David Schonfeld, head of the Na­tional Cen­ter for School Cri­sis and Be­reave­ment at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Adults do not al­ways see how chil­dren re­act in­ter­nally and ex­pect them to bounce back quickly when rou­tines are restarted, but the ef­fects can linger for years after the dis­as­ter.

“It is not like it gets all bet­ter quickly and everyone can move on,” Schonfeld said. Though it is of­ten said that chil­dren are flex­i­ble and get used to liv­ing in dif­fi­cult con­di­tions, in many cases, they don’t.

In 2010, the US Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Chil­dren and Dis­as­ters re­ported that state and lo­cal govern­ments needed to bet­ter iden­tify the needs of all chil­dren be­fore dis­as­ter strikes and de­velop long-term re­cov­ery plans that ad­dress their hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, health and men­tal­health needs.

It of­fered 81 rec­om­men­da­tions, but, a 2015 re­port by the non­profit Save the Chil­dren, found that only 17 rec­om­men­da­tions had been “fully met.”

Some US cities have had to scramble to keep school go­ing after hur­ri­canes, such as send­ing stu­dents to tem­po­rary hous­ing or even to dif­fer­ent districts.

In poor com­mu­ni­ties and those with­out post-dis­as­ter plans, chil­dren suf­fer more. A 2010 meta-anal­y­sis of 96 stud­ies that ex­am­ined post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der or post-trau­matic stress symp­toms in 75,154 youths found that, in many cases, the ef­fects of the dis­as­ter last years and that it is not just the dis­as­ter that causes trauma.

Pic­ture: AFP

After storms like su­per ty­phoon Haiyan, it is harder for chil­dren to re­cover.

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