Indonesia earthquake: The joy of a bright orange water tank

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A devastating 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra on 30 September 2009. What happened is being done to help those affected? Uamdao Noikorn reports.

AJUNG VILLAGE, Padang Pariaman: It was a delightful sight. Big bright orange water tanks are lying everywhere. Men and women are gathering around them, joking and laughing despite the surrounding ruins and debris from the earthquake. They were obviously in a good mood.

For them, these are not simply rainwater catchment tanks but something that would improve their quality of life immensely. It means a long walk will now be the thing of the past. It means more productivity on farm work. It means more time with their families and many more things.

Apart from destruction of houses, contamination of waterways is one of the most common problems after a natural disaster. Wells are damaged and often become dirty. If left unsolved, it would lead to the spread of diarrhoea and other sanitation-related illnesses.

Immediately after the earthquake, Oxfam came to the affected areas to provide emergency relief. The highest death toll occurred in areas of Padang Pariaman, Padang, Agam and Pariaman, all of them receiving some kind of assistance.

One of Oxfam's target areas is Ajung village where there are 50 older women who have no adult males to help around the house and do not have adequate water supply. Some women, many of them in ill health, also head the household while taking care of young children. Oxfam's 50 rainwater catchment tanks have supported 208 people: 158 women and 50 men.

In a little one-room house, the family's belongings and furniture are crammed in and piled up. It is also the place where Nona, her daughter Elfina, 28, and her little grandson sleep at night. Next to them was a piece of rooftop over crumbled cement pieces of what was once their home.

"We're very happy to have this rainwater catchment tank. We will no longer have to walk for three kilometres to get water and then another three kilometres back," said Nona, 50, a farmer from Padang Pariaman, one of the most severely hit areas in the Sumatra earthquake three months ago.

"After the quake, the number of mosquitoes has risen sharply. It's also because of the rainy season. Malaria and dengue fever are not uncommon in this area. The water in the stream that we get water also looks dirty and murky. Life was very difficult," said Nona.

After her husband's death five years ago, Nona had to shoulder more household work as Elfina has to do the farm work while her husband was a motorbike taxi driver. Nona starts her day at 5am with a morning prayer and prepares breakfast before walking to get water.

"We need two buckets for each day for cooking and drinking. One bucket can store 20 litres of water so my mother and I have to go together everyday. It's too heavy for one person to carry two buckets and the path isn't straight. It's up and down so on the way back, it's a lot of work," said Elfina.

So when she learned last month that they, too, were in Oxfam's water tank distribution list, everyone was elated. For a family that could only be reached after a 15-minute drive uphill to the middle of nowhere, having a water tank installation is "very, very helpful."

Seventy-year-old Jainun is another widow who will benefit from the programme. Her eyes light up as she observes Oxfam engineering team and workers install the 1,000-litre tank in the backyard.

Although her house is only 70 metres from the stream, the water was so dirty that filtering was more or less useless. "It has become difficult to find clean water... sometimes we just use dirty water," said Jainun who lives with her daughter and son-in-law.

But because of their workload, Jainun often has to fetch two to three buckets every day. The villagers do laundry and bathing in the stream so the water is only for drinking and cooking. But with the tank's capacity, the village's famous masseuse plans to use it for everything to save her knees and time.

"I've been doing this for as long as I remember. I am very happy to get this water tank. It's like the joy of a child who expects his mother to come home and finally she is... Thank you Oxfam for bringing this to us."