It is six months since a relatively small earthquake in the Indian Ocean generated the tsunami wave that swept across the Mentawai Islands, destroying villages and killing more than 500 people on 25 October last year. SurfAid launched an immediate emergency response, and within 24 hours had started to dispatch aid to the islands. Over the course of the next two weeks we sent more than 14,000 non-food items, six tonnes of rice and tens of thousands of packs of noodles and cans of fish. Our marine capabilities, and knowledge of the Mentawai Islands, were the key to our ability to access stricken communities.
Within two weeks of the tsunami we had finished the emergency response and started the first round of the subsequent Emergency Recovery Program, and we have been working on that ever since. Since December we have been engaged in the second phase of the Emergency Recovery Program, the long-term recovery that will take many years to implement. We continue to focus on community health, and have extended our ability to cover affected communities by engaging a respected local NGO as a formal implementation partner. This is a major step up for YRSM (Yayasan Reimar Schefold Mentawai), it represents a partnership that is good for both parties. We can cover many more communities and YRSM can access our implementation model, training and support. Together we will do much more than either party could do individually. The community health project (called P4B, Proyek Pencegahan Penyakit Pasca Bencana) has just commenced.
We continue to implement our Psycho-social Support Project (PSS) in four of the most badly affected communities of South Sipora, which were devastated by the tsunami with the loss of many lives. Our PSS approach was first designed for West Sumatra following the 2009 earthquake and we have utilized the same system in Mentawai, with some appropriate modifications for local culture and conditions. This project specifically targets children, attempting to help them overcome the post-traumatic stress disorder that is widespread throughout the Mentawai.
"Trying to spend time to evaluate each project site on a daily basis can be challenging. However, there is always a smile on my face when I get to hang out with children as wonderful as the group in Gobik. The sound of their laughter warms my heart especially when they're making fun of my Mentawai language skills."
- Stacey Howe, Project Consultant for PSS project Photo: Bram/SurfAid
In these South Sipora communities, where we have operated for many years, we also decided on a more direct approach to assistance, and we have been implementing a Temporary Shelter Project. So in Beriulou, Bosua and Masokut we are helping the communities to help themselves, by providing building materials, technical help and logistical support. The community members build their own temporary shelter, using SurfAid’s earthquake-resistant design. In addition to providing much-needed shelter, this project also encourages a new sense of mutual support within the communities. In less than three months we have helped these three communities build 263 of 329 planned houses. This is a fantastic achievement that says as much for the spirit of the communities as it does for our field team.
The most recent tsunami is just one on a long line of natural disasters that regularly afflict this region, and for some communities it proved to be the final straw. A large swathe of the central western coastline of South Pagai no longer has any communities. They have relocated to government-sponsored IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in the hills in the middle of the same island. Of course these camps are many metres above sea level, so they are safe from any potential tsunami, but they have their own problems such as lack of adequate shelter, difficult access, poor quality water and an almost complete absence of any sanitation facilities. These problems are exacerbated by the vagaries of the Mentawai weather, which in the past two months has included non-stop deluges of pouring, tropical rain then a long period of hot, dry weather. Neither of these conditions is ideal for communities that have no sanitation, and that rely on the rain to provide their only source of potable water. SurfAid has no experience of working in IDP camps in the Mentawai, but we are conscious of our responsibilities and of the fact that we have a long-standing relationship with the islands, and we are now planning several projects which will provide assistance where it is most desperately needed.
The new village of Masokut, Mentawai’s version of a suburban subdivision in the making. Masokut, in South Sipora, lost all but one of its houses to the tsunami in October. In response, the community members decided to relocate. They chose a site about 1km inland, and cleared it of trees in six days. Since then SurfAid has been assisting in the rebuilding of a house for every family. This project has only been running since early January, yet already Masokut looks like suburbia. Many temporary houses are built, and these are being improved constantly through the provision of timber, roof tin, nails and water collection systems from SurfAid. Photo: SurfAid
Pak Nerius with his wife Ibu Nortina and son Naldius from the village of Masokut, where the tsunami destroyed 61 of the 62 homes. Pak and Ibu lost two children when a brick wall collapsed; Naldius miraculously survived under a heavy piece of timber and concrete blocks. Two months ago this family could not gather the energy to rebuild, nor attend their gardens and the many other daily chores. But they joined SurfAid's Psychosocial Support Project and now they have a smile on their faces as they look forward to finishing their new home with the guidance of our Shelter Project. Photo: Matt King/SurfAid
Our P4B project, with YRSM, will target the IDP camps of South Pagai, where there has been an absence of any reliable community health services since communities were first relocated there in December last year. Another collaborative project, this time with the Indonesian arm of arche noVa (a German NGO) will deliver significantly improved water and sanitation facilities to the same camps in the middle of South Pagai. The engineering will be provided by arche noVa; the local labour will be provided by the communities themselves. The materials will be funded by SurfAid (thanks to AusAID, the New Zealand Aid Programme and other donors) and we will also be managing the monitoring, evaluation and reporting components. This collaborative project is in the final stages of planning and will start in April.
We will also be implementing a Clean Water Project in South Sipora, targeting other long-term community partners such as Katiet, Mongan Bosua and Sao. As is normal practice, SurfAid will provide the technical expertise and materials such as cement, pipes, tanks etc. The communities will provide any local materials, and will be the sole source of labour. This process has the key benefit of ensuring long-term community ownership.
A new home in Berilou built by the community with earthquake-resistant design features from SurfAid - a great example of community engagement in the rebuilding and recovery process after the October tsunami. Photo: Matt King/SurfAid
An Emergency Preparedness (E-Prep) Project commenced on 14 March, and will run until the end of November. The objectives are simple. We will visit every coastal community of both North and South Pagai, to give much needed science-based information and raise awareness of natural disasters (with an obvious focus on earthquakes and tsunami). We will build local community capacity so they can manage their own disaster risk reduction planning and execution, and plan evacuation sites and evacuation routes, and we will work to strengthen the local government support network. This format has been successfully tried and tested in West Sumatra, and an initial scoping visit to the affected communities has indicated there will be strong support from the communities themselves.
To support the two components of clean water installation, we are in the process of training our field staff to implement a Hygiene Promotion Project, which will focus on South Sipora and North Pagai. The objectives are simple. We will encourage communities to improve their sanitation and hygiene status in order to reduce the high levels of diarrhoea (especially in children) that have been affecting many Mentawai communities since the tsunami. Diarrhoea in young children often becomes a very serious condition in the Mentawai, and has been a factor in many deaths. The people of the Mentawai have already suffered enormously from this tsunami which is why we are implementing this project, aspiring to reduce any further preventable deaths.
The specific activities described above will run until the end of November. But this work we are undertaking is just the start of the long, long road to recovery for the Mentawai. Many of the communities that were flattened in the world’s biggest earthquake of 2007 were rebuilt, just to be swept away by tsunami in 2010. The people of Mentawai live close to nature, and as a result they have suffered disproportionately over the past few years.
SurfAid started life in the Mentawai and we have worked there, as an integral part of the life of the islands, for 11 years. We are committed to the Mentawai for the long term. Before the tsunami we were the only international NGO represented there, and we intend to remain there for as long as it takes to help the local communities get back on their feet, again. We will continue to work through local partners, building capacity, confidence and credibility, and we will continue to assist where we can with logistics and marine transport.
Often, the stress and trauma experienced following a natural disaster causes families to forget the simple things. After learning how to brush their teeth, the children of Berilou received a toothbrush and toothpaste each. The child receiving his pack in the picture even promised to brush his teeth 10 times a day. Photo: SurfAid
During the tsunami, and its immediate aftermath, we have continued to implement our Community Based Health Project in Nias. The fact that we are still there, as are several other international NGOs, six years after the massive Boxing Day tsunami and subsequent March 2005 earthquake that put the island of the map, demonstrates the long-term nature of the commitment that is needed in any post-disaster situation. Despite our organization focus on the aftermath of the Mentawai tsunami, we have been able to make excellent progress in Nias.
Since the latter part of last year we have focused on sanitation and hygiene and the link to health, and have encouraged all of our partner communities to take responsibility for their own sanitation status. To date, close to 600 individual community members have built their own latrine as a direct result of the work we have done. In less than a year this represents a remarkable achievement. This provides convenience, security and improved health for each individual household, and when communities work together they can achieve the gold-standard of 100% ODF (open defecation free) status. The benefits to the whole community are probably obvious! So far 40 per cent of our partner communities have achieved this goal. We have also targeted schools in Nias, teaching students the links between hygiene, sanitation and health and encouraging them to become ambassadors for good hygiene behaviours at home.
The islands are isolated geographically, lying more than 125km (80 miles) off the Sumatran coastline, and many of our villages are difficult to access. SurfAid has developed a recognized capacity to work efficiently and effectively in this environment. As an organisation, we are proud of “getting the job done” and our field staff - comprised of 95 per cent Indonesian nationals - are immensely proud of their achievements. With your continued support we can deliver our much-needed programs.
- Alan Rogerson, SurfAid Program Director