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Lessons Learned in Aceh Save Lives in Sumatra
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Vina Agustina and Eric Porterfield
October 1, 2007
The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) is distributing 1,000 hygiene kits, 650 hurricane lanterns and 500 medicines in the Bengkulu Utara and Muko-muko districts of Indonesia to provide relief to earthquake victims.
The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) is distributing 1,000 hygiene kits, 650 hurricane lanterns and 500 medicines in the Bengkulu Utara and Muko-muko districts of Indonesia to provide relief to earthquake victims.
(Photo Credit: Vina Agustina/International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.)
Aid is reaching the many thousands of people affected by the massive 8.4 magnitude earthquake that hit Bengkulu, Indonesia on September 12. The Indonesian Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia, or PMI) started assisting affected communities immediately after the earthquake, providing an ambulance service, setting up a temporary field hospital and gathering information. PMI is now distributing relief items, such as tarps, hygiene kits, hurricane lanterns, and medicines.

The American Red Cross is providing support to a 30-person team that will assist PMI with recovery efforts in the earthquake-affected areas. “We are assessing the need for a psychosocial support program in Bengkulu Utara and a water and sanitation program in Muko-muko,” says Joni Saputra of PMI.

Running to Higher Places

The September 12 earthquake was the second to hit this region in less than eight years. The first, in July 2000, and other natural disasters such as the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami prompted many local communities to begin learning what to do and how to protect themselves in the event of a disaster.

“I kept remembering the Aceh tsunami while we were running away,” says Leni Yuliarti, a 20-year-old housewife and mother of a three-month-old daughter. “The Aceh tsunami taught us a lot. It raised our awareness of earthquakes and tsunamis.”

 “We, the Bengkulu people, have learned from our last experience and from Aceh Province that whenever any big earthquake happens, it is best to run to higher places,” says Raudah, a local resident, as she watches her two sons clean up the rubble on her home. “Also, the Red Cross and some government departments have taught us about disaster preparedness through disaster simulations.”

The American Red Cross has staff in nearby Banda Aceh conducting ongoing recovery and disaster preparedness activities stemming from the 2004 tsunami. Disaster preparedness activities include training local leaders and volunteers through disaster drills, forming rapid response volunteer teams, and creating disaster plans for vulnerable communities. This training has reached other communities, such as Bengkulu, thanks to the dedicated volunteers of PMI.

“Since the tsunami, the American Red Cross and PMI have trained hundreds of communities to be better prepared for future disasters,” said Gerald Anderson, senior director of the American Red Cross Tsunami Recovery Program. “Our preparedness programs are helping people in a part of the world that is very prone to disasters.”  

An Excellent Strategy

The recent earthquake damaged or destroyed more than 27,000 houses in Bengkulu Province and damaged an estimated 19,500 homes in West Sumatra. Twenty-five people are reported dead. But thanks to Red Cross preparedness training, the toll was lower than it might have been.

“We are lucky because we have learned disaster preparedness”, says Raudah. “I hope there will be no more tremors in Indonesia, especially in Bengkulu. It is important for other communities in other areas in Indonesia to learn from our experiences. We never know when the disaster will come, so being prepared is an excellent strategy to reduce casualties.”

You can help those affected by countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. Call 1-800-RED CROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the International Response Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster please do so at the time of your donation.

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