Its survival with the bare necessities
By Jeevan Thiagarajah
column travels this week to take a look at the
conditions in the strip accommodating a large number of
persons under difficult circumstances from Maththalan to
Mullivaikka. Many families have lost one or more of
their members. Quite a few have been transferred out by
boat for medical reasons. Many have spent time in
State of children
significant number of school going children are affected
with schools failing to reopen in Wanni from the
beginning of the current year. An estimated 7800
children could reportedly have gained admission to grade
one this year while 13,000 pre-school children could
have gone into pre-school education.
Leaving behind their homes, schools and friends has
deeply affected these children. Children have at times
shown characteristics beyond their years. Games they
play have martial overtones. Lack of sufficient
nutritional content in the daily diet is liable to show
up in new borns.
children have witnessed the death or injury of family
members. Families and children have not been able to
perform traditional customs and rituals associated with
death. Rituals have been all but abandoned for now.
Care of the elderly and people with special needs
elderly have become very vulnerable due to shortages of
what would constitute among their essential needs. Many
have been left behind and separated.
were several institutions in Wanni that cared for
children, the elderly, unwed mothers, people with
learning disabilities and the mentally ill. In spite of
the ongoing war these institutions were doing their best
in taking care of their members. But currently those who
manage these institutions are struggling to provide
adequate food and other necessities to those in their
quite important to take into consideration that we are
dealing with a society which has already been affected
by a three decade long war and the tsunami which
devastated the coastal belt of Sri Lanka in December
2004. People who had their own houses are now forced to
live a sub-human life under tarpaulin sheets, exposed to
extreme heat, in an area that is not at all conducive
for the existence of a large number of people.
gone through multiple displacements in a short period of
time, the people are left with depleted financial
resources, shortages of essentials, uncertainty about
their future well being, inadequate facilities for basic
needs such as toilets which have brought frustration and
has an effect on their physical and psychological
in that context guidelines to deal with disasters are
presented (adopted by the Psychosocial Forum of CHA
following the tsunami)
segment is particularly applicable in dealing with those
who have come to Vavuniya and
and those who remain in the safe zone.
listen to people who share their stories, concerns and
solutions, if necessary again and again.
re-assure people that their feelings and reactions are
recognise peopleís strengths and resilience
friendly, compassionate and caring, even if people are
angry or demanding.
encourage and engage people in meeting their own needs.
understand the emotions of people who have suffered
losses, and take them seriously. There is no right or
wrong way for people to feel, given the horrific
listen to peopleís expression of their basic needs
force people to share their stories with you, especially
very personal details. If they donít want to talk much,
do not disturb them.
tell people what you think they should be feeling,
thinking or doing.
make promises about what you will do for them, if you
are not sure about this.
give simple reassurances to people, saying Ďeverything
will be ok,í or Ďat least you have survivedí or Ďothers
have suffered more than you.í
tell people why you think they have suffered, especially
giving reasons about their personal behaviour or
tell people what you think they should have or could
have done, whilst in the critical situation, especially
to save loved ones.
separate surviving family members and relatives from one
another, if possible, especially children.
label people as traumatised or victims but refer to them
as survivors and / or people affected.
values associated with humanitarian assistance found
within sphere standards which govern humanitarian
interventions are :
possible steps should be taken to alleviate human
suffering arising out of conflict and those affected
have a right to life with dignity and right to
Few easy steps
few easy steps to meet basic needs for the support of
well being of those affected is described below, drawn
from recommendations of a mental health task force and
their work in Jaffna after the tsunami.
Immediate (0 Ė 4 weeks post-disaster): Social
interventions address basic needs, reunification of
families, structured and normal activities, supporting
coping mechanisms, with additional activities structured
for children (games, schooling etc.).
Short-term (e.g. 1 Ė 6 months post-disaster): This
period signifies a natural recovery from psychological
reactions to the trauma. People who have lost relatives
will still be grieving and the focus may be on practical
issues related to rebuilding lives.
long term basis, the existing structures for health
service provisions should be utilised, rather than
independent services being established for disaster
survivors, with such services being accessible via
traditional resources at the community level.
community level approach empowering local resources like
family health workers, village leaders and government
and NGO workers to handle the majority of psychosocial
problems is the most effective way to address mental
health consequences of the disaster.
Community level workers need to be equipped, through
training in basic mental health, to identify the more
severe cases for referral, as recommended by WHO. The
manual Mental Health In The Tamil Community could be
used for this.
vital that the psychosocial component be taken into
account in all rehabilitation, resettlement and
development programmes. An integrated and holistic
approach including psychosocial and mental wellbeing
will enhance the recovery process. Following needs
assessment, decisions need to be developed on how
existing services are to be altered to cope with
increasing demands and how existing services will link
with rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.
counselors and psychosocial workers are to be trained,
their long-term sustainability will need to be addressed
with staffing and equipment costs requiring long-term
funding, in addition to the short-term costs of training
column has used material generated by many professionals
working in the north.)