Yemen: Flood survivors battle trauma

News and Press Release
Originally published
SEYOUN, 6 November 2008 (IRIN) - Saiqah village in Seyoun district of the southeastern Yemeni governorate of Hadramaut lies in ruins after late October floods swept away houses, devastated agricultural land and felled thousands of palm trees.

"Now we live in the depths of despair," said Mohammed Omar, 19, who spends much of his time sitting on the remains of his destroyed home.

Saiqah was one of a number of villages destroyed by floods which left over 90 dead and dozens missing. Over 20,000 were displaced, according to the Yemeni government.

Omar said he was in shock: "Cries of panic went up as people rushed to reach higher ground. We could feel death was approaching," he said.

The villagers received a telephone warning from another village one hour before the floods hit. Survivors spent 12 hours on a nearby mountain without food, water or shelter. Villagers said 22 people were killed and others had gone missing.

"We found three dead bodies from our village today," said Naji Salem, a 65-year-old villager.

Omar and others are deeply traumatised by the disaster - one the worst in Hadramaut's history.

Mobile clinic

The Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW), Yemen's largest NGO, identified scores of people in Omar's village and others that need psychological help.

It started a mobile clinic on 4 November to provide psychological assistance to people in four of Hadramaut's 30 districts.

Mohsen al-Duwailah, head of the CSSW in Seyoun District, said the clinic had two doctors, a psychiatrist and an assistant psychiatrist. "The team found 30-35 psychological cases in Tarim District and another 18 cases in Sah District," he told IRIN.

Those who had lost relatives were the most traumatised, said psychiatrist Mansour al-Sharji, in charge of the mobile clinic, adding that those whose relatives had survived were faring better: "They seem to have accepted. the loss of their houses in the floods. Accepting the situation is one stage in overcoming trauma," he told IRIN.

Aid distribution criticised

Al-Sharji warned that trauma cases would increase if relief aid distribution were not managed properly.

"Flood victims are at their wits end. Lack of fairness in the distribution of aid will traumatise them further," he said.

Flood victims interviewed by IRIN expressed concern over the distribution of international aid.

"The financial assistance the government received. is enough to construct new cities, but half of it will go into the pockets of corrupt state officials. We are surviving with our relatives. Where in God's name has the bulk of the aid gone?" asked one of the flood victims who preferred anonymity.

Another victim in Broum District, southern Hadramaut, said their village headman had told them that anyone whose house had been damaged would get 20,000 riyals (US$100) in compensation, and on 5 November, Sadeq Amin Abu Ras, deputy prime minister, said each flood victim would receive 100,000 riyals (US$500).

Among the donors are the Gulf states, the USA, Japan and Germany, and the Saudi government has pledged $100 million.