Disaster expert: Haiti's children need emotional help
Plan’s disaster response expert Dr Unni Krishnan has been assessing how children in Haiti have been dealing with the earthquake.
"When I first heard about the earthquake in Haiti I immediately thought back to last year’s terrible hurricanes and floods. Experts from different aid agencies were prepared for these emergencies and there was a good response.
"But this is not a hurricane or a flood. This is a different disaster, which hasn’t been seen in Haiti for over 2 centuries. Aid workers have very limited experience in this area. Even if we had been prepared, the earthquake, which was 7.32 on the Richter scale, has produced a disaster of unprecedented disorder. We as aid workers can only carry the lessons learned from previous disasters.
“Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, with slow development and widespread poverty. A disaster of this magnitude fast forwards the poverty. It amplifies the country’s pre-existing conditions. The houses and structures are poorly planned and constructed and would struggle to cope with even a smaller earthquake.
"I conducted an assessment of children living in Croix des Bouquets (a suburb on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince) and the situation was dire.
"Almost all mothers told me that their children are waking up four to six times a night screaming from horrendous nightmares. Of course these are normal reactions to an abnormal situation but help must be given to these youngsters so they can work through these emotions.
"Plan’s initial response has been to set up a number of child safe zones which are designed to give the youngest survivors of the earthquake a break from the relentless misery of life on their rubble-strewn streets.
"But what is needed now is a comprehensive approach in which we place children at the center. Psychosocial care and support and protection should be an organic and integral part of all responses. Putting children at the center of the earthquake response is key.
Vulnerable to abuse
"This country is one of the most vulnerable and poorest. There are large numbers of people living in unorganized makeshift camps and they are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and violence. We are very concerned about the children living in these camps. The development of this country has now been delayed for another generation.
"It is a daily struggle to live with the reality of devastation here. I have been involved in relief efforts all over the world – but nothing compares to what we have witnessed so far in Haiti.
"Time is running out for the people of Haiti. They need support now."
You can help Plan reach more children and families in Haiti. Donate today.
Find out more about Plan’s emergency response in Haiti