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Braving the Second Wave

Psychological trauma adds to woes of victims of floods

by Qasim Nauman

Pedro Ugarte—AFP

With entire communities having been swept away or scattered by the floodwaters, gone, too, are the support structures that helped citizens cope with loss and despair. According to medical caregivers volunteering in refugee camps, Pakistan’s flood-affected are at risk of a “second wave of death” from disease and malnutrition—and from psychological trauma.

“Children can’t sleep, some wake up screaming in camps, saying their loved ones are drowning,” says Falak Niaz, a clinical psychologist working with the International Medical Corps in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Charsadda. “Adults are exhibiting mood disorders and panic attacks.” Depression, anxiety, and agitation are natural responses to such calamities, says Niaz, adding that many are turning to God for comfort.

Health risks to the estimated 20 million displaced by the floods are daunting. According to the World Health Organization, 19 percent of the 3.7 million consultations provided so far have been for skin disease, 14 percent for respiratory infections, and 13 percent for acute diarrhea. Some 94,000 cases of malaria have also been reported. It doesn’t help that the torrents have destroyed 400 health facilities across the country.

Pakistani’s worsening economic situation has already led to a rise in suicide rates, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an NGO. Lack of adequate mental help to the flood affected could add to those numbers.

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