The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says extensive psychological counseling programs for thousands of traumatized victims of the devastating earthquake in southeastern Iran are getting under way this week. The federation says volunteers from the Iranian Red Crescent will conduct the programs with support from the federation.
The Iranian government estimates more than 40,000 of the 100,000 inhabitants of the ancient city of Bam were killed in the December 26 earthquake. The six-month counseling program, which begins this week, aims to help 15,000 of the worst-traumatized survivors of the earthquake. The Red Cross Federation's senior emergency officer, Hakan Sandbladh, says therapy "play" groups will be set up for some 2,000 unaccompanied children, many of them orphans, who will need special help.
"We are trying to look after not only the physical needs, but also the mental needs," he said. "They are quite disturbed. So you need some specialized people, specially trained people really to observe the kids during these sessions to pick out who are the sufferers and who are the ones to need more support."
Mr. Sandbladh says 11 teams made up of 75 Iranian Red Crescent volunteers will take part in the psychological support program of Bam. Each team will include a psychologist, a nurse, a relief expert and educators.
The Federation is providing important financial and training support to the program. But Mr. Sandbladh says the counseling must be done by Iranians for it to be effective.
"You need to know the customs, how the normal behavior is in similar situations to be able really to pick out the right communication level," he explained. "And also to identify who is actually suffering more than others."
The Red Cross official says the program also will use local radio to give the population basic guidelines and advice on how to cope with trauma. He says the Iranian Red Crescent will train local people to carry on psychological support after this six-month program ends.