A tsunami survivor expresses her grief
December 26, 2006
by Kevin Caruso
“I cannot forget ... it feels like it happened just yesterday,” said Zaldi Sitiawan, a tsunami survivor from the Aceh province of Indonesia; and Zaldi’s words only begin to express the deep pain, unending grief, and psychological hell that is still felt by virtually all tsunami survivors.
It was two years ago today, on December 26, 2004, when a vicious 9.0-magnitude earthquake ripped the ocean floor near the coast of Northern Indonesia and caused the resultant devastating tsunami.
The tsunami destroyed almost everything in its path, and killed about a quarter million people. And many of those who survived lost everything – their homes, their possessions, and their loved ones.
So how do people go on after such extreme devastation and loss? Answer: some do not, as some have died by suicide. And we will never know the exact number of tsunami survivors who died by suicide, because the stigma associated with suicide is still extremely strong in virtually all cultures and countries, including those of Asia, but, clearly, each suicide is a tragedy.
And for the survivors who have not yet suffered from some type of mental disorder, there is a strong likelihood that they will suffer from clinical depression, PTSD, or a similar malady at some juncture in the future.
And greatly exacerbating the problems of mental disorders associated with the tsunami is the fact that the vast majority of survivors are poor and thus do not have access to adequate mental health facilities.
Additionally, some of the survivors are still homeless, or live in inadequate shelters, which compounds their already deep psychological torment.
It is indeed difficult to believe that two years after the tsunami – and after donations in excess of $13 billion – some survivors still do not have adequate housing.
Over half of the tsunami donations still sit in banks, and those holding the purse strings are wary – they do not want to “waste” the money.
And although caution is definitely warranted in spending the money, the urgency of the survivors’ needs is still seemingly not paramount to those in control of the funds, and, worse yet, some of the money that has been “spent” has been misused or has disappeared.
And how much of the “recovery” money is spent on mental health?
Mental health is not even a consideration.
So, on this day of tsunami memorials, candles on the shorelines, and prayers at mass graves, we should all pause and think about the psychological trauma that survivors have endured, and will endure for the rest of their lives.
And then we need to ask the question:
How can we best analyze the psychological suffering of tsunami survivors, and what proactive and reactive implementations will best avert and best treat this suffering, the associated disorders, and the suicide ideation?
And then we need to take action to help them.
To everyone who has been affected in any way because of the tsunami, I love you and I will never stop fighting you.
Indeed, Tsunamis.com and ProjectCare.com are just BEGINNING our work to help you – because we realize that the tsunami was not a single-day event, but a lifelong challenge to survivors, and we thus have a lifelong commitment to you.
With each phase of the recovery, we will make sure that YOUR voices are heard.
And we will never stop honoring your loved ones who died on that horrible day.
We pray for you and your family on this day of remembrance.
God bless you.
We love you.
Founder, Director, Editor-in-Chief
Founder, Director, Editor-in-Chief