Thursday, February 21, 2008

Afghanistan: "I see horrible scenes and cacophonous sounds of explosions while I am sleeping"

"I see those of my classmates in dreams who died in the explosion," said Khalil Raman, a student who witnessed the blast and subsequent shoot-out

Hundreds of schoolchildren who witnessed a deadly explosion and its aftermath in Baghlan Province, northern Afghanistan, on 6 November are suffering mental and psychological scars, health specialists and affected residents say.

Over 48 people, including at least 18 children, died in the blast - and the subsequent indiscriminate shooting by armed bodyguards of some high-profile members of parliament (MPs) who were visiting a sugar-cane factory in Baghlan city - according to the Ministry of Education. Dozens of children and adults were injured.

Over 1,000 schoolchildren, boys and girls, had been brought to the welcoming ceremony, the provincial department of education reported.

"Since that explosion my son often screams in his dreams and has increasingly lost weight," said the father of a 12-year-old boy, Mohammad Nawab.

"I see horrible scenes and cacophonous sounds of explosions while I am sleeping," said a 13-year-old student who had been slightly injured but did not want to be identified.

Frozan Esmati, a mental health specialist working for the German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), who has conducted preliminary assessments of the impact of the blast on affected people, told IRIN that many traumatised schoolchildren and their parents suffered from paranoia, dizziness, stress and sleeping disorders.

"Some of them need extended medical care and treatment to fully recover," Esmati added.

Psychological counselling

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has earmarked about US$50,000 to implement a four-month psychological counselling and treatment project for traumatised schoolchildren in Baghlan.

"The project will train local health workers on mental counselling and will also provide needed medications," said Ahmad Javid Siddiqi, a UNICEF specialist in Kabul.

UNICEF's project will be implemented in close collaboration with HealthNet International, a non-government organisation which runs several medical aid projects across Afghanistan.

At the end of the project a report will be presented to the Ministry of Public Health and UNICEF recommending whether or not the affected children require further medical assistance, HealthNet said.

Widespread problem

The psychological impact of armed conflict on peoples' mental health is not confined to one part of the war-ravaged country.

Mental health experts say many children in conflict-affected southern and southeastern provinces could suffer deep scars of war.

On 17-18 February over 110 people, including several children, were killed in two separate security incidents in Kandahar Province, the Interior Ministry said.

However, unlike relatively secure provinces in the north, in Kandahar and other southern parts of the country insecurity and violence have hindered access to, and delivery of, health and humanitarian services, which has compounded peoples' problems, say aid workers in Kabul.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.

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