Recovery Continues for Earthquake Impacted Communities in Indonesia

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With health care systems broken or damaged after the earthquakes and tsunami, focus is on local hospitals and clinics treating displaced people.

By Gordon Willcock

Last fall, a series of devastating earthquakes struck multiple provinces in Indonesia, resulting in massive loss of life and significant infrastructure damage, from which the region is still recovering.

On Sept. 28, 2018, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake brought buildings crashing down in the City of Palu, and the temblor produced a powerful 10-foot near-shore tsunami that destroyed infrastructure and buildings, and liquefied large swaths of soil under buildings and houses. More than 4,000 people were killed as a result, and more than 200,000 displaced.

Earlier in the year, beginning on July 29, a series of earthquakes and aftershocks struck Lombok, an island to the immediate east of Bali. The earthquakes left hundreds dead and more than 400,000 homeless. In Northern Lombok, 80 percent of buildings were either severely damaged or totally destroyed.

Since then, some have or will receive funding from the government to rebuild, yet those displaced from the liquefaction areas lost both their homes and their land, as these areas have been designated red zones that are too dangerous to live on.

For these families, they must wait for the allocation of new land and the building of new housing. In addition to shortages of permanent housing, health services were also interrupted by the disaster.


Direct Relief is working alongside partners from the grass-roots level through to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, at the regional level to rebuild and strengthen health infrastructure and access to health care in areas that were impacted by last year’s disasters.

Direct Relief is working with long-term partner, the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center, or MDMC, to rebuild and expand a Muhammadiyah-run hospital, Siti Fadilah. When complete, the hospital will increase both access to medical care and expand the range of medical services available to vulnerable communities living in and around Palu.

Construction on the project has already begun and it is expected to be completed in 2019. Direct Relief is also working in partnership with MDMC, the City of Palu, Sigi Regency, and Donggala Regency on a project to rebuild and strengthen eight earthquake-damaged public primary care clinics. Work on those projects has also begun.

At the regional level, Direct Relief is working with official regional partner, the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management, known as the AHA Center, to assess how to further connect displaced families with health services.


In Lombok, even more than a year from the earthquakes, many continue to live under tarps and tents, and access to clean water, food, and healthcare remains a challenge. These challenges are particularly acute for mothers and babies. Issues related to water and sanitation, nutrition, and access to appropriate health care, pre- and post-natal checkups, diagnostics, and birthing facilities, remain an issue for a large proportion of the earthquake affected communities.

Direct Relief has been supporting long-term partner Bumi Sehat, an organization that has run a continuous maternal and child health emergency mission on Lombok since August 2018. Bumi is headed by prominent Bali-based midwife Robin Lim and the organization has a long history of delivering maternal and child health services in austere post-disaster environments. Bumi has been running their 14-month long mission out of tent facilities set up in impacted communities.

They have reported that these tent facilities and staff quarters have been blown over multiple times by regular tropical storm strength winds and rain, and multiple smaller earthquakes have rattled the affected community in the last year, which sent people running into the streets and deepened existing disaster related psychosocial issues.

In October 2019, Direct Relief signed an agreement to fund the purchase of land and the building of a permanent Bumi Sehat Lombok birthing facility that will serve the community and stand as an maternal and child health center of excellence for training local midwives.

The future permanent Bumi Lombok MCH center will provide ongoing services to the local community, it will act as a disaster response base in the event of future earthquakes or cyclones, and it will also have an expansive impact in terms of training and expanding local MCH capacity.

Working with local, national and regional partners to restore and strengthen health infrastructure and services remains Direct Relief’s focus in both Lombok and Sulawesi.