Rebuilding Sulawesi: Update on Our Disaster Relief in Indonesia

News and Press Release
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by Megan Staub

The recovery of Indonesia’s Sulawesi island has slipped out of the news in the last few months. After all, the hard work of grieving loss and piecing life back together doesn’t make many headlines.

But that work goes on, even if it doesn’t capture international attention. More than two million people in Indonesia were personally affected by the twin tragedies that struck Sulawesi on September 28, losing loved ones, houses, schools, and jobs to the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and resulting tsunami.

Thanks to you, they don’t have to rebuild alone.

Water Mission began mobilizing within hours of the disasters, and we plan on staying for several more months.

Your generosity — along with the support of the Poul Due Jensen Foundation, ADRA, Grundfos, P&G, and FedEx — enabled us to immediately deploy staff and shipping equipment. And your generosity is helping us to continue our work in the region.

When we first arrived, much of the island was decimated.

“There were bizarre sights dotted all over the city,” Craig Williams, our disaster response coordinator and strategic partnerships manager, told us from the field. Buildings were flattened like cardboard, shipping containers dotted the landscape, and boats had been plucked from the ocean and dropped in the middle of roads. On the east side of Palu, one of the major cities in Sulawesi, almost nothing was left standing.

“It’s sad and also very humbling when you see firsthand the effects of this force,” Craig said.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, simply reaching the survivors was a challenge. The local airport was closed for a time, and the shipping port was damaged. We ended up flying most of our equipment to the south side of Sulawesi and driving it for more than 24 hours around a mountain range to reach the disaster zones. When the roads were too damaged to drive, we hiked or used helicopters to reach cut-off communities.

At that time, “There was access to fresh water sources, but they were untreated,” Sean McSwain, Water Mission’s director of partnership support, explained. “People relied on boiling their water. Waterborne illnesses were an immediate hazard and risk to the population.”

Because Water Mission had an established presence and country program in Indonesia, we were one of a few organizations invited to contribute to the local disaster relief initiatives. Since September, we have installed long-term, sustainable safe water systems in 14 communities, and we are currently working in six more. For those residents, the access to safe water is a small taste of normalcy and one less thing to worry about as they continue to rebuild.

As the need for immediate relief fades, we have been transitioning to a long-term, community-oriented approach to delivering safe water. This allows us to collaborate with community members as we design and install water treatment solutions, provide health and hygiene information, and empower them to independently manage their systems.

A few days ago, the Central Sulawesi administration announced that it would take at least three years to rehabilitate the island and rejuvenate its economy. It’s only been five months since the disasters struck, and there’s still much work to be done.

Many people are still living in displacement camps, which we continue to serve with safe water. As farming and fishing are two popular occupations on the island, those who are still displaced are eager to return home and begin rebuilding so they can get back to work.

The people of Sulawesi are moving forward with resilience and courage in the face of unimaginable loss. We’re honored to work alongside them as they restore their communities.