Following a series of devastating disasters – an earthquake, tsunami and repeated volcanic eruptions – thousands of Indonesians from Java to Sumatra are unable to return home and are relying on critical assistance from the Red Cross to cope with and recover from their losses.
“Since the devastating tsunami of 2004, the American Red Cross has been working extensively within Indonesia to ready the nation and the people for the next disaster,” said Alex Mahoney, the American Red Cross manager of disaster programs for Asia. “We have also committed an initial $50,000 to assist the Palang Merah Indonesia (PMI or Indonesian Red Cross) in their efforts to provide relief to the affected communities in the wake of the current disasters.”
Mount Merapi, located in central Java, first erupted on October 25, killing 34 people, including one local Red Cross volunteer who was heroically working to evacuate the local residents.
The volcano’s menacing effects continued throughout the past week, forcing another major eruption as recent as Friday. Sadly, more than 100 people are estimated to have died and more than 200,000 more have been affected.
The Indonesia Red Cross is assisting the survivors who live near Mount Merapi by supplying temporary shelter and blankets as well as providing three meals a day and attending to the injured at mobile clinics. The most recent eruptions, with an erratic spewing of ash, clouds and gas, have forced the displaced residents to move even further away from their homes to escape danger. Because many people’s livelihoods are dependent on agriculture, persuading people not to return to their homes has proved to be a great challenge.
Access to clean water is another obstacle, which the Indonesian Red Cross and local leaders are working to overcome.
“We had to collect rain water for our daily needs,” said Yayuk, a mother of two who lives near Mount Merapi. “The water had been contaminated by volcanic dust, so we couldn’t use it for bathing or cooking.”
In another part of the country, an unrelated 7.7-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami which rushed onto the shores of the Mentawai Islands on October 25. The nine-foot wave off the western coast of Sumatra swept away hundreds of homes and caused the displacement of more than 15,000 people. This disaster also had tragic effects, leaving nearly 450 people dead, 400 injured and100 reported missing.
“Relief workers initially had difficulty reaching isolated villages on the islands, but a team of local Red Cross staff and volunteers overcame turbulent weather and rough seas to be among the first to reach the survivors of the tsunami-ravaged Mentawai Islands,” said Mahoney.
Today, the Indonesian Red Cross continues to find creative solutions to reach residents and communities cut off by weather conditions and destruction, including utilizing helicopters to deliver the much-needed supplies and medical assistance.
The collective global Red Cross network aims to support the Indonesian Red Cross in assisting 28,000 people that have been affected by both disasters throughout the next six months, with a focus on providing temporary shelter, food and clean water. The Red Cross also aims to reconnect separated families and help to address the emotional and psychological effects of the disasters.
Additional reporting by Ahmad Husein, Muhammad Nashir and Aulia Arriani of the International Federation of the Red Cross.