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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 11:11 GMT
Children's quake nightmares
Girl cries
The children are suffering and many are now orphans
By Jill McGivering in Gujarat

Shona is an earthquake baby, born about two months prematurely to a badly injured mother in the Indian state of Gujarat.

Only about a week old, she had been suffering from severe dehydration.

Grandmother and girl
Many children are being cared for by relatives
She is still tiny but she and others like her have survived in an emergency paediatric tent set up by the Israeli army hospital.

The unit has seen more than 100 children since it arrived last week - most of them with fractures of crush wounds caused by falling buildings.

But the head of the hospital, Colonel Yamoda Baruk, said he was most concerned about the large number of orphans.

"It's not like getting one boy or two girls, or two more young children in a family of four," he said.

"It's like getting suddenly 10 more or 20 more kids into a family of two because that's the magnitude of the disaster here."

Finding out

Family and community ties are strong here and it seems many orphans are being informally adopted. But there is also great confusion and it is hard to establish basic facts, even whether a child really is orphaned or just displaced.

Makeshift medical centre in Anjar
Emergency medical centres have been set up
Robert McGilvery of Save the Children said one of the charity's jobs may be to trace the parents of apparent orphans and check what really happened to them.

"We know that there has been a high casualty toll," he said. "We know that there are numbers of parents dead and that children have been absorbed into the immediate family, the extended family or into the wider community in general.

"However we need to establish for these children whether their parents are in fact dead because they could in fact just be separated."

Nightmares

Children are arriving for medical treatment with chronic symptoms - diarrhoea, respiratory problems, infections - and all related to homelessness and bad living conditions.

Local paediatrician Dr Shantu Patel has been setting up a crisis centre for children's health. She has already seen evidence of psychological suffering.

"Children are getting up and won't sleep under a shed," she said. "Even then they're not sleeping in the tent. They want to go into the open.

"So, I think they will be claustrophobic. They're not going to stay in a closed space. The fear that something's going to fall on them.

"They are getting up with nightmares and won't go back to sleep.

"I have seen people and children who have lost immense weight. I couldn't recognise some of my patients."

In small children, hysterical laughter can sound very close to crying.

On the surface children seem very resilient, but as the shattered society starts the slow task of recovery it may be the children who bear some of the worst scars.

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See also:

29 Jan 01 | South Asia
Prosperous Gujarat laid low
28 Jan 01 | South Asia
India seeks $1.5bn loan
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