Natural disasters and conflicts can rob the most vulnerable people in society of a livelihood and a support system. But the ensuing emotional damage can last for a lifetime
in Palu, Indonesia
The Independent Voices
One month ago, a nightmare arrived in Indonesia. An earthquake hit, and was so strong that the earth turned to liquid, and a tsunami struck the heart of a major city.
I’ve just returned from one of the worst affected areas, Palu. I’ve been working in humanitarian crisis for several years, but I found the things I saw there almost unbelievable. People here, particularly women and children, badly need our help.
More than 60,000 houses have been destroyed; thousands of people are left homeless. The government and charities here are still assessing the full scale of the damage, but it spans from houses that have been partially damaged to others that have been completely swallowed up by the ground. I saw this myself, and it‘s hard to comprehend. I’ve even been told that, in some places, two or three houses were sucked under, one house after another, as if stacked on top of each other like blocks. No trace of them left behind.
The local response has been incredible. Community organisations, local government teams, business people and neighbours immediately scrambled to provide materials to make small camps, shelters and safe spaces for children. Local woman Lian, for example, has set up a food kitchen where she is producing nearly 5000 meals a day for people living in camps.
One of the most humbling things about being here, as a man, has been witnessing first hand how vital women are to rebuilding a community. I know from experience as an aid worker that, when local women lead the response to a disaster, it can make a huge difference in the long term. Women like Lian, or like my colleague Francisca “Iko” Fitri, who heads ActionAid in Indonesia, are often the first responders to a crisis like this, and they bring knowledge and skills that make the relief effort more effective. They also help prepare the community for the future, preventing new emergencies.
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