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Psychological Support Remains Vital One Month After Chile Earthquake

As Chilean Red Cross relief distributions to families affected by the massive earthquake that struck central Chile on February 27 continue to gain momentum, special emphasis is being given to psychological support for people traumatized by continuing strong aftershocks.

More than 200 aftershocks measuring greater than 5 magnitude have been reported since the disaster a month ago.

“These strong tremors are particularly distressing to people trying to recover from the trauma of having lost family members and friends, homes, and livelihoods,” explains Gustavo Ramirez, regional representative, currently in Chile. “People who live in the coastal areas are not only afraid of the aftershocks but also of any possible tsunamis they may trigger, and even people whose homes have been assessed as being safe are afraid of staying indoors. They wonder whether these aftershocks will ever end.”

The 14-member psychological support team from Spain, supported by staff from the Red Cross societies of Colombia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, as well as by Chilean Red Cross volunteers, have treated nearly 1,700 adults and children since the disaster. They are working in the region of Maule and in Santiago. In addition to holding therapeutic sessions with different groups of people affected by the disaster, with a special emphasis on children, they are also training Red Cross volunteers.

Additionally, to ensure people have access to healthcare in areas where hospitals have been destroyed, several other Red Cross teams have been dispatched to the affected regions. A clinic operated by the Spanish Red Cross has treated nearly 1,200 people in Hualañé (Maule region). A second clinic sent by the Japanese Red Cross has been set up in Parral (Bio-Bío region) and the surgical field hospital supported by the Red Cross societies of Canada, Finland and Norway is being set up in Pitrufquén (Araucanía region). These facilities will all be turned over to local staff, who will maintain healthcare services, throughout the next weeks.

Chilean Red Cross volunteers also continue their vital work, receiving and packing donated goods, transporting them to the affected areas and distributing food, hygiene items and emergency items to survivors. To date, more than 2,300 households (approximately 11,600 people) have received kitchen utensils, hygiene items, blankets, water containers and tarps in the most severely-affected regions of Maule and Bío-Bío.

In recent weeks, the American Red Cross doubled its contribution to $1 million for relief efforts in Chile and plans to provide additional support in the coming weeks and months as the response progresses. Additionally, it has provided 5,000 water containers, more than 1,100 hygiene kits and one disaster specialist, who is serving on a regional assessment team.

The global Red Cross network collectively aims to provide health services for up to 90,000 people, shelter assistance for 50,000 people, relief items for 75,000 people as well as water and sanitation services for up to 10,000 people within the next year.