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November 6, 2018

“I stood in disbelief” – Indonesia Earthquake and Tsunami update


“I stood in disbelief” – Indonesia Earthquake and Tsunami update

By Mireille Flores, Humanitarian Programmes Manager, World Jewish Relief

On the 29th September 2018, a devastating earthquake hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, triggering a tsunami with waves 6m high. 2,077 people were killed, 4,400 injured and 1,075 are still missing. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless. World Jewish Relief launched an Indonesia Earthquake and Tsunami Appeal raising over £100,000 from the British Jewish community. World Jewish Relief’s Humanitarian Programmes Manager, Mireille Flores, travelled to Palu to co-ordinate our response and meet some of the people we are helping…

Flying into Palu airport the extent of the devastation becomes immediately apparent. The airport was partially damaged and has since become a military-controlled transit hub for Emergency Response staff and relief items, flying into deliver aid and help with the rescue and recovery.

More than 200,000 people have been displaced from the areas of Palu, Dongala, and Sigi after witnessing their community, livelihoods, and homes torn away from them. They are now living in 980 different camps which have sprung up on any land which is safe or clear, near to government compounds and along the roadside. I met a man living in a tent next to the road who spoke through tears as he told me how he saw his house and possessions crumble before him having only a make-shift tent left to call home.

One of the most unsettling experiences I had was seeing the effect of the liquefaction – a process whereby the soil losses strength and behaves like a liquid, burying villages in mud. I had heard about this phenomenon but stood in disbelief at seeing it in reality; a vast muddy area which bore no resemblance to the thriving community it housed just a few weeks ago. It felt impossible that the land could reclaim such an expanse of development and eradicate it as though it had never existed. These areas are now considered mass graves.

The huge number of people who lost their lives and are still missing is horrifying but simply reporting on those numbers is not telling the full story as there are hundreds of thousands more people who witnessed extensive loss of life and the destruction of their homes and their communities.  They now have to live with this trauma, whilst also stuggling to survive themselves.

In a tent put together from foraged items I met a mother living there with her seven year old daughter and her young boy aged three. She told me of the hardship she had in caring for their needs, how she has access to a shower less than once a week and was worried about her children’s health and not having enough food to feed them.

Thanks to the huge generosity of our supporters we have been able to begin alleviating some of the worst impacts of the disaster and help people meet their basic needs. Central Sulawesi is about to enter the rainy season and having witnessed an early storm in the area, I saw how vital it is to get displaced people into adequate shelter. The health implications, not to mention the humanity, compel us to act quickly.

Together with our local partners who are regional disaster response specialists, we have begun distributing emergency kits to help people without adequate shelter to ensure they have protection. Our shelter kits provide tarpaulin, rope, blankets and mattresses and have benefited around 1,000 people so far and we have also been distributing tool kits so people can build their own shelters.

In emergencies the importance of hygiene and sanitation is so often forgotten. We shy away from talking about what the destruction of waste management systems, safe toilet facilities and personal hygiene items really means. Dignity should not be a privilege and neither should protection from easily preventable diseases.

That is why we are supplying hygiene kits containing nappies, sanitary products, underwear as well as menstrual products because in the midst of an emergency, biological processes do not stop. Ignoring this fact removes the dignity of women and girls and risks serious public health challenges.

In Dongalla I met Zainab who was clutching her malnourished baby son to her chest. I discovered the baby had diarrhoea and Zainab was terrified for his wellbeing as she had no way of getting nappies due to shops being destroyed and the prices of any remaining products becoming sky high. With inadequate sanitation in the makeshift camp, his health was at real risk. Thanks to World Jewish Relief, I was able to give Zainab nappies from the emergency hygiene kits and as I handed it to her a smile of delight and relief spread across her face.

We are working hard to ensure these relief items and provisions are being delivered as quickly as possible, as well as building strategies to help the affected communities recover. It is only with your help, however, that this is possible.