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Tsunami, War, and Cumulative Risk in the Lives of Sri Lankan Schoolchildren


  • The data of this study were collected in the context of a cooperative humanitarian project of the Zonal Department of Education Vallikamam, the Shantiham counseling center, the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), and the nongovernmental organization vivo. We are grateful to all children, teachers, counselors, and staff members in Sri Lanka who took part in the studies. The research conducted in these studies was supported by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), “Ein Herz für Kinder” foundation, and vivo. The authors would like to thank Mahendran Kohila and Nadja Jacob for their special contribution to training of local counselors and supervision of data collection. In addition, we would like to thank Daya Somasundaram and Sundaram Divakalala from GTZ for supporting the research in Sri Lanka with their continuous professional and logistical input. Authors declare they have no conflict of interest. The corresponding author had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

concerning this article should be addressed to Claudia Catani, Department of Psychology, Clinical Psychology, and Psychotherapy, Bielefeld University, Post Box 100131, 33501 Bielefeld, Germany. Electronic mail may be sent to


This study examines the impact of children’s exposure to natural disaster against the backdrop of exposure to other traumatic events and psychosocial risks. One thousand three hundred ninety-eight Sri Lankan children aged 9–15 years were interviewed in 4 cross-sectional studies about exposure to traumatic life events related to the war, the tsunami experience, and family violence. Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, somatic complaints, psychosocial functioning, and teacher reports of school grades served as outcome measures. A global outcome variable of “positive adaptation” was created from a combination of these measures. Data showed extensive exposure to adversity and traumatic events among children in Sri Lanka. Findings of regression analyses indicated that all 3 event types—tsunami and disaster, war, and family violence—significantly contributed to poorer child adaptation.