Children in Nepal are facing an unprecedented emotional toll as they deal with the devastating consequences of two major earthquakes in two and a half weeks, warned UNICEF.
Thousands of children and their families have poured back into informal settlements across the country – after the May 12 quake left many too afraid to return home.
“We cannot underestimate the psychological impact on children of these repeated powerful tremors,” said Rownak Khan, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Nepal.
“I was very close to the epicentre when Tuesday’s quake hit and children were hugging one another and crying for hours as people fled their homes. We know that many children are suffering from nightmares, some are extremely stressed and cannot sleep, while others are constantly clinging to their parents.”
UNICEF is reinforcing its operations in affected areas – including in the districts of Dolakha and Sindhupalchok, worst affected by Tuesday’s quake. As well as providing clean water, sanitation and vital medical supplies, the children’s organisation is also prioritising psychological support for children who are dealing with extreme stress.
“We need to be on high alert to provide emotional first aid for children when and where it is needed,” Khan said.
“It is immediately obvious when a child does not have food, shelter or clean water. However, the signs of emotional distress – like anxiety – can be hidden from view and can cause serious long-term damage if they are not dealt with.”
To help children cope with their experiences, UNICEF is supporting specialist counsellors in the worst-hit areas of the country, who will offer specialist assistance to children in need, running dozens of child friendly spaces in informal settlements where children can access psychological support; supporting art therapy classes for children; running a special programme on Radio Nepal - Bhandai Sundai – that offers call-in counselling to children in more remote parts of the country. The program was on air within 10 minutes of the May 12 quake hitting; deploying teams to identify and assist any children who could have become separated from their families; helping to open up schools and establish temporary learning centres to help children get back to education and offer them a safe space and a vital sense of routine.
“It is important that we do all we can to offer children the psychological support they need as well as a safe environment and a stable routine to help them come to terms with their experiences,” said Khan.
“The children of Nepal have already been through so much and we must do everything we can to give them back a sense of childhood.”
UNICEF has launched an appeal for more than US$50 million to support its humanitarian response to the earthquake in Nepal over the next three months, as part of a wider inter-agency flash appeal.