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Aceh children remain afraid

Jakarta Post - December 23, 2005

A'an Suryana, Banda Aceh – One year after the Indian Ocean tsunami, children in Indonesia are recovering at a slower pace compared to children in other countries affected by the destructive waves, a survey has found.

Some 80 percent of tsunami-affected children polled in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand expressed optimism about the future. Of the Acehnese children who were polled, one-third said they did not think their lives would improve, according to the survey funded by the United Nations Children's Funds (UNICEF).

"This may reflect the fact that a staggering 69 percent of children surveyed in Aceh had lost at least one family member," said UNICEF's Indonesian representative, Gianfranco Rotigliano, in a press release on Thursday.

The survey, conducted by TNS, a global market information company, involved 1,633 children affected by the tsunami in the four countries.

In Indonesia, TNS interviewed 400 children in Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar regency, two of the hardest hit areas by the tsunami. Four hundred children were interviewed in Sri Lanka, 400 in Thailand and 433 in India.

The children, between the ages of eight and 17, were asked for their thoughts and feelings on the disaster and their futures. Rotigliano said the survey showed that many children in Aceh remained "afraid and anxious".

The survey also found all of the children were aware they benefited from relief assistance, but at the same time felt additional aid was needed. The children identified several key needs, most often mentioning assistance to help them return to school and complete their studies. Money, housing, clothing and jobs for their families were other areas the children said they felt more assistance was needed.

More than one-third of children polled in Indonesia said they often feel alone. More than half the children surveyed in India and Sri Lanka fear another earthquake or tsunami, while 76 percent of children interviewed in Thailand fear the loss of a loved one.

In Indonesia, feelings of loneliness and boredom occur more often during playtime, while in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, the children indicated that during free time they felt cheerful and content.

"This figure may be a reflection of the relatively large numbers of children who are still without permanent homes in Aceh and have lost a family member," said Rotigliano.

More than nine out of 10 children in all four of the countries said they were back in school.

The tsunami swept over coastal areas in Southeast and South Asia, with Aceh the hardest hit region. Of the approximately 180,000 people who died in the worst natural disaster in generations, some 130,000 of them were in Aceh.