Six months after a devastating tsunami struck Indonesia’s southern Mentawai Islands, survivors are slowly rebuilding, but huge challenges remain, say aid workers.
More than 500 people were killed and another 11,000 displaced when the tsunami, triggered by a magnitude 7.7 earthquake off the coast of Western Sumatra, struck the islands (comprising some 70 islands and islets) on October 25.
The earthquake and tsunami damaged and destroyed hundreds of homes, particularly in South Pagai Island, the most affected area.
Most of the over 2,000 families displaced have since relocated to temporary shelters in 10 separate camps built in safer locations, but concerns over water, sanitation and jobs remain, says SurfAid, which has worked with the Indonesian government and UN in coordinating response efforts.
“Most of these camps now have a reasonable level of accommodation — proper roofs, floors etc, instead of tarpaulin roofs and mud floors — but there are still issues with many of the necessities of life,” said Alan Rogerson, the NGO’s programme director.
“Food is difficult to find and since everybody has moved to these communities they have left their fields behind,” he said. “Water is also difficult [to procure]. It is often trucked in along the logging road from Sikakap, but on many occasions there is not enough.”
According to the government, more than 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the 3-5m wave, with losses estimated at Rp 349 billion ($40 million).
A government assessment in December put the estimated cost of rebuilding — including temporary shelters, permanent homes and lost infrastructure, as well as lost livelihoods, at over $100 million.
Since late last year, the government and aid groups have built 1,600 temporary shelters, each measuring 24 square meters, made of plywood and corrugated iron. Construction of permanent houses will start this year.
Because many areas could not be accessed by road, the government had to extend the emergency response period in more remote areas until 15 April, Ade Edward, head of logistics for the West Sumatra Regional Disaster Management Agency, confirmed.
“But some things are better than even before the tsunami. For example, there are now water facilities and mobile clinics,” Edward said.
Farmers have begun cultivating their land and the government and aid groups are providing seeds of cocoa, patchouli and nutmeg, he said.
The government had recently hired 30 medical workers, including doctors, nurses and trauma counsellors from other parts of Indonesia to work on the Mentawais after most medical workers had left the area, Edward said.
“There has been a serious shortage of medical personnel,” he said. “Most medical workers only stayed on the islands for a week and then left.”
Rogerson said there had been an increase in cases of malnutrition, diarrhoea and chest infection, which was to be expected after the tsunami.
“The local health department, with support from the Provincial Health office, the central government and a few NGOs, has started to get some level of community health care back up and running,” he said.
“Again this is slow, because of the difficult access and the relative lack of local resources.”
Ready Indonesia, a local NGO, and Mercy Corps are focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, and reviving people’s livelihoods in Sipora Selatan, Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatan districts, said Monalisa Satoko, a team leader for Ready Indonesia working on the Mentawai Islands.
“We have tried to identify water sources but it’s difficult, especially on [elevated] sites,” said Satoko. “Fuel is also extremely scarce and transportation is very limited.”
The International Organization for Migration has helped deliver supplies from Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province, to Mentawai using cargo ships, said operational officer Yuhendra, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name. IOM’s operation will wrap up on April 27, he said.
Habitat for Humanity has built 18 temporary wooden houses, provided building kits and helped build small roads and evacuation routes in Sipora Selatan, said Andreas Hapsoro, Habitat’s project coordinator for West Sumatra.
Some 600 families in Sipora Selatan have refused to move to temporary shelters built by the government because the camps were too far from their farms, Hapsoro said.
“Now many families have moved to houses they have built on their own or are still looking for suitable locations,” he added.