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Earthquake: El Salvador, India, and Peru
MSF Responds to Physical and Psychological Needs in All Three Countries
On January 13, 2001, a major earthquake struck El Salvador. Two weeks later, a massive quake leveled entire villages in the Indian state of Gujarat. A few days after this, the earth moved again in El Salvador. In June, an earthquake rocked southern Peru. With ongoing programs in all three countries before the disasters, MSF responded in each case with massive emergency aid, including medical care, supply of relief items, and psychological support.
After the first quake hit the western coast of El Salvador, MSF volunteers in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and Colombia made their way to the region of the disaster. Within seven days, there were more than 53 MSF aid workers on the ground, a number that swelled to 85 after the second earthquake.
Initially, MSF trained its efforts on the two main hospitals in San Salvador, both of them damaged. MSF provided medicine and medical supplies. In rural areas most affected by the tremors, MSF provided medical care, including first aid, surgery, and psychosocial attention. Tents and sanitation services were provided for those left homeless.
In India, the area near the epicenter—the city of Bhuj in the northeastern state of Gujarat—had suffered massive damage and casualties, and villages to the north and east were almost entirely destroyed. More than 20,000 people lost their lives in the January 26 quake.
The initial priority was medical care for survivors. Because most health care facilities had collapsed, MSF set up mobile medical teams to assist the population. The greatest need, however, was tents to shelter entire families from the cold weather. MSF undertook a massive fly-in of relief items, bringing in 20,000 tents and 1,000 tons of supplies including clean water, blankets, plastic sheeting, and sanitation equipment. Nearly 20 volunteers took part in the relief operation.
MSF orchestrated daily distributions by truck, organizing with local leaders and sometimes with families themselves, ultimately assisting over 100,000 people.
On June 23, an earthquake hit Peru. Relief efforts focused on impoverished rural areas in the south, most severely affected by the earthquake. A steady stream of aftershocks kept people living in fear, while cold weather compounded the risk of health problems. At the height of the emergency, 16 volunteers helped provide medical care, shelter, and basic relief.
Psychological Support is Essential
The earthquakes in El Salvador, India, and Peru prompted comprehensive psychological aid to the affected populations, in addition to medical and relief assistance.
In Bhuj, the extensive number of casualties meant that almost every family had experienced a personal loss. An increase in anxiety, depression, and anger was quickly detected among the survivors. MSF trained local nurses, teachers, and social workers to help trauma victims cope with the emotional effects of the quake.
Far away in El Salvador, people were experiencing the same loss and its emotional fallout. Near San Salvador, the capital, over 10,000 people displaced by the quake gathered in El Cafetalon, a sports center. A team of five MSF psychologists and one psychiatrist offered daily consultations, in the immediate aftermath of the quake reaching more than 100 adults and 300 children each day. Trauma was so widespread after the country's second earthquake that MSF broadcast messages on radio stations to educate people about the symptoms of traumatic stress and ways to help them cope.
In Peru's Camana province, a seaside area affected not just by the quake but by a tsunami (tidal wave) that immediately followed it, MSF ran workshops in a camp for the displaced to raise awareness of the symptoms of psychological trauma. Psychologists provided consultations and also assisted their Peruvian counterparts. Non-traditional approaches to psychological support were also used, for example identifying camp residents' individual skills, such as bread making or carpentry, and encouraging them to use their abilities to help their neighbors.