It was around 12 pm in the afternoon of 15th June 2021. 38-year-old Bikram (name changed) of Melamchi Municipality, Sindhupalchowk district, Nepal, was working in the field along with his ten other friends when the flash flood came with no warning and swept them away.
“I was washed over around 300 meters away from my field. As I passed, I managed to reach out and grab the tree. My mouth was filled with mud, and my body didn’t have the strength to shout for help. At that time, my plan was to hold on until the water receded,” said Bikram.
Shocked, tossed, and buffeted, after nearly one hour, Bikram finally managed to pull himself out of the water and made it to shore on his own. Although he survived, Bikram later learned that seven of his friends were pronounced dead at the scene.
Ever since that incident, Bikram said that he has been suffering from flashbacks of the flood and has trouble sleeping. “Every night, I see floods washing my friends and me away. It is none less than seeing ghosts in a dream. I am scared when the picture of a river comes into my mind,” said Bikram.
The massive flood and landslides at Melamchi Municipality and Helambu Rural Municipality of Sindhupalchowk district have left behind many lives shattered by physical injury, including the death of loved ones and the loss of the properties and houses. The road is submerged in a thick layer of mud, sand and water. On top of that, the monsoon rain is still pouring, and floods and landslides are ongoing phenomena right now. Some people are living inside makeshift tents, while initially, some had taken refuge in the nearby schools and municipality offices.
Such losses have further caused psychological wounds on the survivors like Bikram, who are experiencing deep grief, fear, nightmares, insomnia, stress, mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks and depression.
“Many survivors have lost everything, including their family members. They are worried about how they will be able to bounce back in the absence of financial support, and that is making them anxious,” said Jiban Bhattarai, a psychosocial counsellor at WOREC.
Bhattarai further said that in such a situation, delayed relief and mental health responses, prolonged instability about where to live and lost income could further threaten mental health.
34-year-old Shanti (name changed) has been left devastated after her four-story house was washed away in floodwaters. For Shanti, it has been like reliving a nightmare since the 2015 earthquake had also damaged her home, after which she and her husband had taken a loan to reconstruct the house.
“We have worked for more than 20 years to build our house. On top of that, we have yet to pay the loan we took to reconstruct our house after the 2015 earthquake damaged it. Now, we own nothing. Our house and all our money have been swept away by the flooded Melamchi river,” said Shanti
Shanti also said that she has suffered from insomnia and heart palpitation.
“I am in pain. I am worried about how we will earn a living in the future, and I am concerned about my children’s education. Despite everything, I have to hide my emotions to look strong for the sake of my children,” said Shanti.
Since natural disasters such as flooding and landslides can pose substantial mental health problems that may continue over an extended period of time, various studies suggest that along with providing food and shelter to the survivors, long term deployment of mental health services should also be prioritized.
To address the need for psycho-social interventions, for the past 23 days, 11 psycho-social counselors from WOREC and Tarangini Foundation, with the financial support of AEIN Luxembourg, have been continuously providing psycho-social support at different sites in the Sindupalchowk district in the coordination of Melamchi Municipality and Helambu Rural Municipality.
The psycho-social intervention is the joint effort of WOREC and Tarangini Foundation under the ‘Together’ (Hami Sanghai Chau) campaign, aiming to provide longer-term mental health needs and support to the flood survivors.
“Psycho-social counselors have been visiting displaced sites to provide Psychological First Aids (PFAs), individual and group psycho-social counseling sessions and art therapy to the children to reduce the occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and also to enhance the emotional, social and physical well-being,” said Sunita Mainali, a program coordinator at WOREC, who arrived in Melamchi Municipality six days after the massive flood of June 15.
Mainali informed that 499 survivors have already received PFA / individual counseling, including follow-up sessions and orientations. Accordingly, psycho-social counselors have also been organizing art therapy for children, self-care sessions such as yoga and exercises for adolescent girls and women on a daily basis.