On 30 September 2009, a devastating earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale struck West Sumatra killing over 1,000 people and damaging close to 250,000 homes. Following the earthquake, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched an emergency appeal to help the Indonesian Red Cross Society support the relief and recovery needs of 100,000 individuals.
When the earthquake struck it was immediately clear that much had been learned from the tsunami that devastated so much of neighbouring Aceh province in 2004. The Indonesian Red Cross Society (PMI) was well aware that establishing communications with people on the ground was the most important first step in responding to any disaster. Immediately, a HF and VHF radio communication network was put in place connecting disaster management teams in Jakarta and the Red Cross West Sumatra chapter in Padang.
In the aftermath of the quake, Red Cross volunteers worked closely with national and local authorities to evacuate and rescue trapped victims. At the same time relief convoys were attempting to reach the remote parts of the district, but with so many roads destroyed, many villages remained cut off and the only way to get food and medical teams on the ground was by helicopter. In just a few weeks the Red Cross air operation had delivered an estimated 27 tonnes of relief items to 1,391 families in two of the most affected districts in Pariaman and Padang Pariaman City. Over the next few months the Red Cross was able to reach 70,000 households with food and non-food relief items in five districts.
“The effectiveness of the Red Cross air operation was highly recognized and appreciated by both the Indonesian government and international organizations,” said Hidayatul Irwan, head of the Indonesia Red Cross Society chapter office who led the emergency operation.
Meeting the health needs of the affected population was another priority. Mobile clinics provided services to 12,300 beneficiaries, mainly in Pariaman district and Padang Pariaman city. The earthquake caused massive disruption to water supplies in the district. In response, the Indonesian Red Cross Society specialist emergency team produced about 1.7 million litres of potable drinking water directly to communities, government and hospitals around Padang City. Hygiene promotion activities for 50 schools and 50 communities were also carried out to improve awareness about good hygiene practices. This approach was complimentary to a community-wide awareness programme on ‘risk reduction’ which was undertaken through radio broadcasts, TV talk shows and a documentary where people learned how to identify and become more aware of the risks and hazards in their communities.
The longest shelter in Sumatra
Every time 16-year old Rini Putri and her friends look at their shelter, they smile. The shelter which functions as an orphanage is uniquely shaped. In fact, it is quite possibly the longest shelter in West Sumatra.
“At a glance, the building looks like a train wagon,” says Rini who had been living for years at the nearby Miftahul Jannah orphanage which was destroyed in the quake.
“I saw the building collapse,” said Rini, recalling the 7.9 Richter scale earthquake. Two weeks after the earthquake, Rini and her friends were still sleeping outside the remains of the building. They feared sleeping inside as the walls of the building were mostly cracked and warped.
For the past year the Red Cross has supported affected communities through its temporary shelter programme. The orphans now have a safer place to live in and can continue their studies without having to worry. The shelter was built according to their needs, by merging six regular shelters into one big shelter.
Shelter construction has been a critical component of the Red Cross recovery plan. The programme has helped almost 13,000 households to build transitional shelters which use coconut wood as the main construction material. Widely available on the local market, the use of coconut and other local materials has boosted economic development in the affected areas. Beneficiaries have been involved in the shelter programme from start to finish and have been free to adapt the standard design and decorate their shelters to suit their own taste.
“I use the front yard of my shelter as a coffee shop. It gives me more income compared to working in the fields,” said Joni, a villager at Pesisir Selatan district.
Volunteers: the biggest asset
Volunteers proved to be the most important factor in the relief and recovery programme. More than 800 volunteers were mobilized from West Sumatra and neighbouring Red Cross chapters during the emergency phase of the operation, many of whom brought with them critical experience gained from working in Aceh on the previous tsunami operation. Today, 198 volunteers remain in the field, working daily to complete Red Cross recovery programmes.
Hans Bochove, IFRC head of office in Padang, feels that developing a strong base of highly motivated volunteers is vital towards improving the local Red Cross’ response to future disasters. Part of this approach has been to create community-based volunteer teams called SIBAT. These teams work at the village level to help communities respond to and prepare for potential hazards.
“We’ve trained about 400 volunteers linked to various skills that the Indonesian Red Cross Society needs in the field,” explains Hans. ”Volunteers are undoubtedly the most valuable asset that the Red Cross has.”