Church Aid Call for Psychological Care for Post-Tsunami Shock

Tomorrow will mark the one month anniversary of the catastrophic tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Reconstruction and rehabilitation are being carried out step by step in tsunami-affected countries by aid agencies and other faith-based groups. At this stage, for the survivors, more than the threat to their physical life, the trauma brought by the death of the loved ones is unspeakable.

The Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), a Norway’s ecumenical development aid agency and a partner organisation of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), has especially addressed this aspect and has called for a comprehensive reconstruction programme in Sri Lanka. NCA together with many other groups, are providing assistance to Sri Lanka in the context of the global church network, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International. The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) is also an ACT partner.

Rev. Sumithra Fernando, executive secretary, NCCSL Women's Commission said the poorest sections of the population (up to 90 percent) were among the worst affected by the disaster. Fernando wonders how people will cope with the immense loss brought by the tsunami. She is currently developing projects for survivors' psychosocial care.

Jayasiri Peiris, NCCSL General Secretary emphasises spiritual and psychological support as a priority contribution of the churches, "This helps people get back on their feet, and not only the infrastructure."

Hans Einar Hem, NCA South Asia representative echoed psychosocial care is crucial, and stresses the need for an integrated development program.

Amazingly, at the community level, people from different social and religious backgrounds are harmonised and united by their common heart of solidarity in face of this sorrowful tragedy.

Described by Hem, many congregations have experienced division in the past, particularly in the east where Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians co-exist alongside Tamil and Singhalese populations. Despite the existing tensions between different religions and ethnicity, they are now working together to respond to the needs created by the disaster.

The NCCSL general secretary affirms "people have crossed cultural and religious barriers, and are helping each other."

Hem admitted that besides the reconstruction of houses and infrastructure, congregations need to be rebuilt and strengthened, a process that requires psychosocial care. Therefore, he urges a close cooperation between the NCCSL and NCA.

In the Aceh province of Indonesia, the worst hit area in the tsunami, psychological care has also been stressed by the Church World Service.

"Church World Service and other aid organisations are turning now towards the very serious long term recovery needs in the damaged areas of Indonesia," declared CWS Emergency Program Director Rick Augsburger in a statement issued on 20th January. "But long term recovery in this case must be about the people first, not only about infrastructure."

Currently, a team of two medical doctors, one psycho-social mental health specialist and one logistic expert was sent. They travel around to deliver mental care services to refugee camps or other displaced people.

Today, director of Department of Mental Health of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Benedetto Saraceno declared, "We may expect that almost half a million will experience something that will need psychosocial support and probably some 200,000 or more may require in the future psychiatric care."

"We think that it's very important that the existing institutions, most importantly the health and social institutions, have to be very actively strengthened, improved," he concluded.