Indonesia

Indonesia: RCHN-NTU Visits Pulau Nias - Lessons Leant from earthquake survivors

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Written by Publicity Officers at RCHN NTU Chapter, Project Kasih 2009, Pulau Nias

Pulau Nias was hit by both Asian Tsunami and Sumatra earthquake in 2004 and 2005 respectively. As part of our official mission trip to Pulau Nias, we had a chance to talk to the locals as they shared their experience on coping with the aftermath of both disasters.

Mrs. Niada Telaurbanua, 28 years old, is a member of one of the families interviewed by the team. She recounted that fateful night - everything happened without warning. On 28 March 2005, her family was sleeping after a long day's work when the earthquake struck at 11pm. The ground shook vigorously a few times - each tremour increasing in magnitude. When the earthquake first struck, everyone was awoken by screams, telling them to get out of their houses seek refuge in the mountains. Everyone was worried that it was a repeat of the recent Asian Tsunami which occurred a few months earlier. The surrounding was pitch black as electrical supply was cut off. Mrs Niada and her family hastily made their way to the mountains together with the other villagers and waited. They were still fearful that more aftershocks may occur and that would surely trigger another Tsunami.

They stayed in the mountains and slept in tents made of gunny sack for three days. They would make their way down to the foot of the mountains to search for supplies in the day, and during the night, they would return to the mountains.

When they first returned to their homes after the earthquake, they realised that the front and back of their house were destroyed and the main pillars were damaged. They cleared the debris and fixed the house to the best of their ability. Other damaged parts were left unfixed as they could not afford the expenses. Until today, they live in the same damaged house without the front and back walls and the main door.

According to Mrs Niada, the most devastated area was Gunungsitoli, the capital of North Nias which has more high-rise buildings. During the disaster, electrical poles collapsed and electrical supply was cut off. This also caused some houses to burn when the exposed wirings landed on them. The earthquake also caused major cracks in roads. These roads were later rebuilt in 2006.

It took about two weeks for electrical supply to resume. Aid was distributed to the villagers by the head of village when they returned after three days. The aid consisted of 1 kg of rice and four packets of Indomee for each family. It was a one time-off aid and was insufficient. They struggled to make ends meet. Now, four years later, they have returned to their normal lives albeit in a worse condition - Mrs Niada is constantly worried about the next earthquake occurring.

She advised everyone living in earthquake-prone areas that they should always be vigilant in getting earthquake warnings from local authorities. They should also be alert to any commotion from their surroundings if a disaster strikes.

The family hopes for assistance, specifically a simple house, school uniforms for their children and food supplies.

The family of Mr. Fa'anö Laoli was the other family interviewed. Mr. Fa'anö Laoli passed away that morning due to lung disease at the age of 55. His wife, Mrs Laoli, gave a similar account of the day the earthquake struck.

Everyone was at home when the earthquake struck. Nothing unusual was observed on that day and there was no prior warning of the impending disaster. Every member of the family was terrified when the grounds shook and their house collapsed. Their small house was made of wooden planks. Luckily, they managed to escape and no one was injured.

They ran up to the mountains in fear of a Tsunami and stayed there for a week. They shared their relatives' food and shelter.

Although their house was reconstructed after the earthquake, it was still in a rather poor condition. They received no help from others in the village as almost everyone was in the same predicament.

Mr. Fa'anö Laoli used to own a small plot of rubber farm before the earthquake but the entire farmland was destroyed by the Asian Tsunami. In order to support their daily lives, they worked in a neighbouring plantation but the wages were minimal. It was a difficult period for the family as the major breadwinner of the family was suffering from lung disease. The woman of the family had to juggle between work and taking care of her children. Their standard of living worsened when the Sumatra earthquake struck.

For now, this family wishes to have at least the minimal necessities to sustain their daily lives. It would be much tougher with the head of the family gone.

These interviews conducted have created an impact with the members of the team. It was a reality check. The team has not encountered anyone living in dilapidated conditions before. The families never complained about their hardship and living condition. They have accepted their abode as it is and have even managed to make do with what they have.

Even a simple thing as electricity made us realised how fortunate we are. One of the interviews was conducted in the dark using our torches as the electricity supply was irregular. The family could not afford to supplement the electricity supply using generators when the main power supply was cut off.

We were humbled. This reminded us not to take anything for granted and make us appreciate what we have in Singapore. We realised that we are very fortunate to live in a country with good infrastructure and education, and is also not affected by natural disasters.

We hope that more people can lend their helping hand to lighten the villagers' burden and improve their lives in various aspects. We learned that funds channeled to them will improve their lives on a short-term basis as they recover from the disasters, while education and training are essential to assist them in restoring their livelihoods for the long term.