Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Psychological Cost of New Zealand's Earthquake

Was interested to read a comment by an old friend who lives in Christchurch, NZ, and is living through the aftermath of the country's worst earthquake in living memory.

Ken Shelley is a church pastor and notes on his blog that the New Zealand Government has today allocated NZ$ 2.4 million for counselling services for those affected by Saturday's quake, which measured 7.0.

Although there were no deaths as a result of the quake, the population of Christchurch is suffering from widespread damage to its infrastructure. The BBC reports that 100,000 of the city's homes (about two-thirds of the total) have been damaged in some way. Residents are unable to flush toilets because of damaged sewers and all drinking water has to be boiled. A state of emergency and nighttime curfew have been extended by a week. Shelley notes that the strong aftershocks are a source of particular distress to city residents:
The situation is unnerving. The big quake on Saturday was bad enough but the ongoing aftershocks are very unsettling. In the last twelve hours there have been 14 shakes of magnitudes from 2.5 to 5.1. Each time the ground starts to shift and the house rattles adrenaline pumps through your body, your heart races and you brace yourself ready to run for cover… only for the moment to pass and you force yourself to calm down. Parents with children are particularly vulnerable to anxiety – well you would be.
Later on, he states:
I have to admit it. I’m rattled. I’m a bit snappy. Perhaps I could help the government spend $2.4 million.

A major aftershock on Wednesday (the biggest so far) apparently reduced some rescue workers to tears, according to reports from the BBC.

The psychological cost of earthquakes is often under-reported. If the government in New Zealand sees the need to invest in counselling services for such an event, it is difficult to imagine the effect on the psyche of a nation which suffers large loss of life through an earthquake.

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