When Nojifo Sithol closes his eyes to sleep, he still hears the screams of his neighbor’s two young children as they flood hundreds of people in South Africa last month.
Like Seattle, many residents of a community hall in the eastern city of Durban are horrified by what they have seen and what they have lost.
Echoes of sheltered cries at night, he said.
“The night the flood started, the sand looked like it was boiling from the water, the whole house was shaking,” said the 35-year-old, who quit his care job at a nursing home to care for flood survivors. .
“The sand and the river have devoured the little ones,” she said, holding a colleague’s baby in her arms at a shelter in Durban’s Entuzuma district.
The community center was home to about 300 homeless people due to the floods in KwaZulu-Natal province, which killed at least 430 people, displaced thousands and caused an estimated R10 billion ($ 685 million) in damage.
Many are injured or grieving, others feel defeated and unable to begin rebuilding their lives, says Nakuthula Shandu, a counselor at the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
“Survivors are asking ‘what are you working for?’, What they earn will not be enough to build a new home, they feel frustrated,” he said.
From California to India, extreme weather shocks associated with climate change – floods, droughts and wildfires – will have an increasingly heavy impact on people’s mental health, experts say, demanding expert care from local authorities.
“They need to feel safe, they need to be seen,” Shandu said after counseling dozens of flood victims one day.
‘No rest time’
In Entuzuma, thin mattresses lined the walls while toddlers walk barefoot, asking adults for a piece of toilet paper before going to the portable toilet lined up in the parking lot.
Informal settlements made of corrugated iron huts have suffered the most in the floods. Many of their residents were unemployed, struggling to scrap in one of the most unequal countries in the world.
Three-quarters of the 340 people in the Entuzuma shelter were unemployed.
Others, who worked as housemaids, bricklayers, gardeners and informal traders – lost their identity documents in the floods, making it harder for them to find work, Sithol said.
Although the provincial government did not respond to requests for comment, it estimated that more than 6,800 people had been displaced by the floods and that temporary housing had begun for about 4,400 families.
In Ntuzuma, an informal arrangement has emerged at the shelter, led by Seathol and other women who monitor and distribute donations, ensure food is cooked and water is distributed.
The kids have formed homework clubs to do their school work together. A church hall has donated a Wi-Fi router for residents to access online.
For washing, shelter residents must carry a bucket of water to the portable toilet.
“All we need is our own place, no privacy, no time to rest,” Seathol said, adding that they had not yet heard whether the government would help displaced people rebuild their homes.
First aid for the mind
Providing mental health services is as important as providing shelter and food assistance, Shandu said, and people lined up for counseling.
“They said we should talk as much as they need food, otherwise they wouldn’t even want to eat,” he said.
MSF has trained more than 200 community health care workers in KwaZulu-Natal in mental health awareness so that they can refer patients to a registered counselor.
Shawn Christie, a spokesman for the MSF, said: “The training comes from the realization that there are not enough mentors or social workers to get close to, not even close to.”
Medical humanitarian organizations are also training shelter leaders – such as Seattle – inviting community support groups for convenience and inviting local musicians to play for the flood victims.
But residents of many shelters say they have already forgotten.
“It looks like we don’t exist,” said Thandeka Endlovu, 36, as she prepared hot meals in the kitchen at the Entuzuma Community Hall.
She said she hoped counseling would help her and her three daughters overcome their ordeal.
“They say time heals everything,” he said. “Maybe one day we’ll see rain as rain.”