UNICEF delivers a life-saving wedding gift in the aftermath of Indonesia’s earthquake
By Lely Djuhari
TANJUNGSARI, Indonesia, 9 October, 2009 – Children and families in Tanjungsari, a hamlet located in the Agam District of Indonesia’s West Sumatra province, recently endured three successive – and massive – natural disasters.
First, on 30 September, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter-scale destroyed most of the houses in the village, which is nestled in the mountainous landscape around Maninjau Lake. Then an aftershock caused the area’s limestone cliffs to cave in. Finally, several nights of torrential rain triggered a mudslide that buried the remaining rubble.
Nearly 2,000 local residents were forced to seek shelter in a traditional West Sumatran communal house in the nearby town market, while many of the men stayed behind to guard their homesteads. What remains of Tanjungsari is now accessible only by motorbike, as the roads are blocked by huge boulders and 1.5-metres of mud.
This week, however, the quake survivors here received some of the 40,000 hygiene kits that UNICEF has rushed to the province. Packed in plastic buckets, the kits contain essential household supplies, including soap, detergent, toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels.
Challenge of aid distribution
Marni Majid, 52, watched her daughter Mirna, 20, get married at the communal house just three days after the earthquake. Her father had to stay behind in Tanjungsari, and the celebration was bare-bones, without “even sugar in the jasmine tea,” the mother said.
“Now, this bucket with soap and detergent feels like luxury wedding presents for our family. We need them badly,” she added.
The lack of sanitation facilities is raising concerns about potential disease outbreaks. To head off that threat, UNICEF is working with the International Organization of Migration to distribute the hygiene kits to affected areas in and around Agam District.
There is no shortage of aid supplies, but distribution challenges remain – particularly in areas where roads and communication systems have been destroyed or badly damaged. Bad weather, which is expected to continue for the next few days, is also hampering distribution efforts and triggering concern about more landslides.
When a bucket becomes an important wedding present
Marni Majid, 52, saw her 20 year-old daughter Mirna get married three days after the quake at the village communal house - but without her father who had to stay in Tanjungsari and without “even sugar in the jasmine tea”.
“Now, this bucket with soap and detergent feel like luxury wedding presents for our family. We need them badly,” she said.
Lack of sanitation facilities has sparked concerns of a possible outbreak of diseases. UNICEF is working with the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to distribute the hygiene kits to areas around the Agam district.
Currently, there is no shortage of aid supplies, but challenges remain with regards to distribution, particularly in areas where roads and communication systems remain destroyed or badly damaged. Bad weather, expected to continue for the next few days, is also hampering distribution efforts and triggering concerns for more landslides.
Rushing supplies to the heart of the quake zone
To date, just fewer than 3,000 hygiene kits and a similar number of jerry cans have been handed over to the province’s Ministry of Public Works, while 24 water bladders have been handed over to the government water company and to a hospital in the provincial capital of Padang. There have been no reports of a rise in communicable diseases so far, underlining the importance of such a rapid response to safeguard water supplies.
UNICEF is preparing leaflets and poster to remind people who once lived in isolated villages how to improve their hygiene habits. They contain basic information such as boiling water for consumption and the importance of washing hands. Even simple actions can save lives in the aftermath of a disaster such as that which struck the Indonesia region.
“This small improvement not only demonstrates to affected people that basic services are being prioritised in the relief effort, but also protects them from any potential outbreaks of water-borne disease,” said Claire Quillet, UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist who is assisting the emergency response from Padang.
So while Mima Majid may not have been expecting a plastic bucket as a wedding gift, the chance of avoiding sickness and possible death in the days after the West Sumatra earthquake may, over time, prove to be the best possible start to her married life.