14 years on from the Indian Ocean tsunami, volunteers applying lessons

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December 26th marks 14 years since the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in Aceh, at the northern end of Sumatra island. The capacity of the Indonesian Red Cross to prepare and respond to disasters has grown exponentially since. Just two months ago, volunteers in Banten province – one of the areas most greatly impacted by this weekend’s tsunami – were conducting training exercises on tsunami awareness and response. It included simulations and raising awareness on tsunamis within communities.

A peaceful evening turned to horror on Saturday when powerful tsunami waves – on top of alarmingly high tides – raced towards the shoreline of a coast popular with holiday makers. Within minutes, the waves had flattened areas on both sides of Sunda Strait, taking lives and causing injuries as they uprooted trees, crashed through property and scattered debris through towns and villages.

373 people killed, 1,459 injured, 5,665 people displaced

Powerful 30-90cm waves on top of very high tides

117 Indonesian Red Cross volunteers in action

Staff and volunteers at the local branches of the Indonesian Red Cross responded immediately following Saturday’s tsunami. They continue to provide vital life-saving support. One hundred and seventeen Red Cross volunteers are delivering critical supplies such as blankets, tarpaulins and clean water. They are actively involved in search and rescue operations and are providing first aid and assisting in the evacuation of the injured.

We know from previous tsunami operations that the urgent priority is treating injured survivors to save lives and prevent long-term harm. The Indonesian Red Cross has sent 22 ambulances with medical crews to transport injured people to hospital, a team of orthopaedic specialist doctors, and five mobile medical teams. These mobile units will be able to access very remote areas and provide critical health care services.

Following any disaster of this size, damage to infrastructure, including wells, can be compromised. The Indonesian Red Cross has strong capacity to purify and distribute water – skills that were strengthened following the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The Red Cross is sending in 14 water trucks (six to Banten and eight to Lampung) to ensure survivors have access to clean, safe drinking water.

There are fears the death toll could continue to rise as emergency teams visit hard-to-reach areas. A wide stretch of Java’s western coastline has been affected by this tsunami. With debris scattered across the region, it could take days before crews are able to access remote areas and provide a complete picture of the impact of this disaster.

The Red Cross continues to respond and will provide further assistance based on the assessments currently under way. The Indonesian Red Cross is well placed to support people. Staff and volunteers have extensive experience responding to disasters – most recently the Lombok earthquakes (a series of earthquakes that started on 29 July) and the Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami, which happened almost exactly three months ago (on 28 October).

It is unclear if the danger is over. The government has warned of the risk of high waves / tides until 7am local time on 26 December. The Red Cross is helping people evacuate away from the coastline to higher ground.

People are understandably jittery. This is a traumatic event that has shaken people, who will also have the Lombok and Sulawesi disasters fresh in their minds. The Indonesian Red Cross has trained staff and volunteers who can offer psychosocial support as people recover.

For more information, please contact:

In Indonesia:

Aulia Arriani, +62816795379,

Kathy Mueller, +62 821 1075 4506,

Rosemarie North, +60 122 308 451,

In Geneva: Laura Ngo-Fontaine, +41 79 570 44 18,