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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Tsunami survivor helps her community recover

Masyitah Sembiring has been named a UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer.

By Steve Nettleton

BANDA ACEH, 8 March 2005 - Three months ago, Masyitah Sembiring’s life was totally shattered by the tsunami. Today, she has a new job and a new purpose in life.

Masyitah is working with a UNICEF campaign assisting families in Banda Aceh who lost their homes in the disaster last December. Just like the people she is helping, Masyitah suffered great loss from the tsunami: Her sister and seven members of her sister’s family were killed, and her sister’s home – where she had been living – was destroyed.

Despite her loss, Masyitah thinks only of helping others. In the days after the tsunami, she and a friend delivered food to needy families. Now she has joined UNICEF’s Water and Sanitation staff. Masyitah spends her days visiting camps, ensuring that displaced families have proper supplies for boiling water and washing.

“I just want to meet people and tell them about the importance of water and sanitation. It’s important to stay healthy. If you are healthy you can do anything. I want to help change their behaviour,” she says.

Caption: Masyitah distributes kerosene stoves to people forced from their homes, in tsunami-affected Banda Aceh.

Help from people like Masyitah is vital to improve sanitation and hygiene in Aceh. Tens of thousands of people are still living in makeshift camps near mosques and schools across the province. It’s estimated that there is only one toilet for every 1,000 people in the camps.

As the lead UN agency coordinating water and sanitation activities, UNICEF is working with partners to address the needs of the tens of thousands who have lost their homes in the area. UNICEF is supporting the construction of more latrines and bathing facilities and the clearing of overflowing septic tanks in larger camps. The organization is also providing clean drinking water to thousands of people in Banda Aceh every day.

“We’ve had a lot of trouble getting good water here because of the salinity levels,” says UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer Belinda Abraham. “Since the earthquake, the change in the water tables has affected the population. So they don’t have access to clean water. So the challenge still is to make sure that people have adequate amounts of safe drinking water.”

For Masyitah, helping others is a calling. Whatever the need, she will be on the job to see that help is on the way.




8 March 2005:
A tsunami survivor finds new purpose helping UNICEF bring relief to her community.

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