Thursday, October 1, 2009

Aiding Indonesia: Why Tents and Food are Not Enough

An estimated 1,100 people have died in Indonesia in the last few days, following an earthquake that measured 7.6 on the Richter scale and another today that measured 6.6.  The number of dead is really more than we can truly wrap our minds around.  After a certain number, it just registers as "many."  Too many.

Many people, at this moment, feel an urge or an obligation to help the survivors.  Money is pouring in to international rescue organizations to help people in Indonesia, Samoa, the Philippines and other countries recently hit by natural disasters.  Survivors' most urgent needs right now are food, water, shelter and, to the extent possible, safety from further damage caused by aftershocks and the like.  Most of us, if we can afford it, will chip in ten or twenty dollars for a blanket for a child in Indonesia without much hesitation.

Once the physical needs of people in Indonesia are met, which will take quite some time when you consider all the rebuilding that needs to happen, attention should turn to the psychological needs of survivors.  Studies have indicated that between 40% and 50% of survivors of mass disasters will experience significant psychological impairment of their ability to function, including (but not limited to) PTSD or depression.  When a disaster affects such a large swath of a country, as these earthquakes do, that is a significant reduction in the productivity and stability of the country.

So what are they going to do?  I don't know about this particular disaster.  The Red Cross and the United Nations, to name two organizations, do have mental health disaster response personnel, and at some point I would hope they will deploy.  Teams from other countries may be brought in, although language barriers make that difficult.  Still, this is work that has to be done.

So here is my question to you.  If you would donate $20 for a blanket for a child in Indonesia, would you donate $20 for some mental health assistance for her?  One might save her life.  The other might make her believe that her life is worth living.

Look here for a partial list of relief organizations accepting donations for those affected by the recent flooding, earthquakes and tsunamis.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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