STAFF REPORTER | United Nations Children's Fund
PORT MORESBY – One month after a series of earthquakes of magnitude up to 7.5 hit four Highlands provinces, children are still in shock and suffering significant trauma and stress which could have negative consequences to their long-term well-being.
“Children are still being confronted by fear, loss, confusion, family separation, deteriorated living conditions and disruption of social and school activities,” said Karen Allen, UNICEF Representative for Papua New Guinea.
“Psychological damage among children should not be overlooked. It can have a negative impact on children’s brain development, mental health and overall wellbeing in the long-run.”
Children who have suffered from trauma have an increased risk of delayed development, mental health disorders, depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide, she said.
Before the earthquakes, children in PNG were already at high risk of violence and abuse. Available data indicate that girls and boys in PNG experience some of the highest rates of violence in Asia-Pacific region.
About 75% of children report physical abuse and about 80% experience emotional abuse during their lifetime. A recent Médecins Sans Frontières report showed 12,000 cases of family and sexual violence are treated each year in Tari family support centre located in Hela Province, where the worst earthquake damage occurred.
The PNG government estimates 270,000 people are in need of urgent assistance, including 125,000 children. Of those children, about 15-20% require psychological support, according to the World Health Organisation.
UNICEF PNG is currently setting up 26 child-friendly spaces to provide psycho-social support services for more than 14,000 children in the severely-affected areas of Hela and Southern Highlands. These are safe places where children can receive psychosocial support to regain a sense of normalcy, play and learn life skills including good hygiene practice.
In addition, outreach teams will be dispatched to affected communities to organize recreation activities such as music and sports, as well as identify children in need of psycho-social support.
UNICEF needs $14.6 million to help children and families affected by the earthquake over the next year. This will focus on providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene in temporary shelters, psycho-social support in safe places, vaccinations and malnutrition treatment and support for children to return to school.