Tiarma Panjaitain was one of the humanitarian workers who went to Sulawesi on behalf of ICCO and Kerk in Actie a few days after the earthquake and tsunami hit the island. We talked to her about her experiences and her ideas for the future.
What was your first impression?
“Actually, I was quite impressed by the coordination of the Indonesian government. They established a meeting point and platform at which all NGOs and volunteers had to register in order to determine who was doing what. Of course in the beginning, everything is a bit confusing and chaotic. Sometimes is was unclear if we could get into the villages. And what kind of aid was needed. But overall there was good overview, as much as that is possible in case of a natural disaster. We worked in a joined database, which was good.”
What did you do on the island?
“Me and my colleague mainly worked on the baseline study, making an inventory of how the money was going to be spend. For this, we were in contact with the local partners of ICCO and Kerk in Actie, who were already there when the disaster happened but were also affected themselves. Therefore they weren’t able to respond as they would normally do. For example, one of the churches was destroyed, so it couldn’t act as a shelter for the people in the community. This kind of information is very important for the baseline study and helps us map the initial situation.”
What about the future of Sulawesi and the reconstruction phase?
“The first three months it’s really about focusing on saving lives. As it’s now 2 months ago, we are still focusing on the primary needs. With such a big disaster, it’s really necessary to prevent more lives from being lost, for example due to diseases. The main priorities for now are still clean water, sanitation, health and medication.
For the reconstruction phase, it’s good to keep in mind that it was a very unique disaster: there was an earthquake, tsunami and liquefaction. This calls for restrategizing the rebuilding, since we now realize that the region is in fact a moving plate. We have to work with specialized architects who know how to build earthquake resistant structures. And we need to map the areas that are prone to liquefaction. We also have to deal with people who previously owned land but lost it due to liquefaction. Will they get new land? How will this be decided? That is a major task for the government.”
What can we do to be better prepared?
“It’s not the first time that a tsunami hit Indonesia. Earthquakes and tsunamis have been taking place for ages. I feel that we should also listen to our indigenous knowledge. Our ancestors dealt with these disasters as well, how were they prepared and how did they respond? This is also something we should take into account as an NGO when talking about disaster preparedness, disaster risk reduction and early warning systems. I believe we should combine modern technologies and infrastructure with this local wisdom of our ancestors.
When it comes to disaster preparedness & response, I think that ICCO and KiA need to invest in church institutions and their capacity. They have a strategic role in the local community. In fact, they are part of the community. When a disaster strikes, it always takes time for responders to reach the area. Therefore, having capacity already in place for the first response is an important feature that churches can maximize.”
How do you look at it from an Indonesian perspective?
“I feel really sorry that we lost so many people. Had we been better prepared, we perhaps could have saved more lives. I’m quite sad actually. Apparently we are still not ready for something like a tsunami, even not after Aceh back in 2005. If I ask people where they would go in case of a tsunami, they tell me that they’ll go running. But then they don’t know where they will run to. We really should be more alert and better prepared.”
“On behalf of the disaster-affected people in Central Sulawesi, I would like to say thank you to all the people in the Netherlands, who have been bringing us into their prayers, sending us love, compassion, fundraising effort. ICCO and Kerk in Actie are working with local partners at the moment to deliver disaster response in Palu, Sigi, Donggala, Parigi Moutong. We will work at our best to ensure that those affected receive your fund.”