New quake not hampering tsunami relief efforts

Daily Sundial

Relief efforts in southeast Asia are continuing in

areas struck by the disastrous Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake and tsunami, and the recent March 28 8.7 earthquake in northern Sumatra.

Non-governmental organizations, such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), Mercy Corps, United Nations Children’s Fund, and Christian Children’s Fund, are some of the groups providing aid to the affected regions, which includes putting personnel and supplies on the ground in the affected areas.

Mercy Corps has been in Indonesia for over five years, but did not have staff or programs in place on the island of Nias when the March 28 quake occurred.

“We worked with the U.N., and we’re working with partner organizations on the ground in Nias,” said Eric Block, communications officer at Mercy Corps.

Mercy Corps is currently doing disaster relief work in India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, and has about two hundred staff members in the areas affected by the tsunami. Many of Mercy’s programs are aimed at long-term recovery, as well as immediate relief and aid.

“We’re really focusing on economic development, so (we’re providing) micro credit (and) small loans,” Block said.

Mercy has also instituted a cash-for-work program that provides survivors of the quake with a living wage in return for cleaning and rebuilding their communities and infrastructure.

“(Workers) were able to open up about a dozen schools in Banda Aceh in about a month after the tsunami,” Block said.

Mercy Corps currently has about 11,000 Indonesians employed in the cash-for-work program, Block said.

The Christian Children’s Fund has been working in India since 1951, Indonesia since 1958, and Sri Lanka since 1985.

“In all three countries, generally speaking, the tsunami hit in areas where we were not working, so we are extending our program to these areas,” said Toni Radler, communications specialist for CCF’s Emergency Response Team.

CCF is also employing survivors in cash-for-work programs, as well as furnishing fishing boats, fishnets, and other necessary equipment to survivors who have lost their livelihoods as a result of the tsunami. Additionally, CCF has set up “Child Center Spaces,” places designed to help children recover emotionally, physically and socially from the horror of the disaster.

“We’ve set up 260 Child Center Spaces,” Radler said. “These are places where children go to heal from what they’ve experienced, through music, dance, or drawing. They get to engage in age-appropriate activities, like playing with other children, or structured activities in which they get to express what has happened to them. (They get to) return to behaving like children.”

One of CCF’s main objectives is to help victims of the disaster return to some semblance of the lives they led before the wave struck. Efforts include supplying means to make a living and helping return the local ecosystem to its pre-tsunami state, Radler said.

“In Indonesia, we’re supplying mangrove nurseries,” Radler said. “Mangroves nurture shrimp prawns, and they help hold land together. We’re planning on paying women to replant the mangroves, since (there) aren’t a lot of job opportunities for women.”

“In India we’re doing cash-for-work programs as well, for boat repair and motor repair. We’re also working with farmers to reclaim their land where sand was dumped by the water. We’re paying them to do that work so they can start farming again.”

Radler stressed the importance of conquering the understandably considerable fear of the ocean fostered by the tsunami, and noted that one major task of the Child Center Spaces is to help children defeat this fear, since a major component of these fishing cultures is an attitude of friendship with the ocean that supports their way of life and survival.

“It’s not a casual interest in the ocean,” Radler said. “It’s their whole lives, their livelihood.”

Both Mercy Corps and the Christian Children’s Fund plan for long-term commitments in the areas struck by the tsunami.

“We are still accepting donations, simply because we’re not just doing emergency work,” Block said. “We’re planning on being in the countries for years. Recovery efforts will take a lot of resources and time.”

“We plan on working in tsunami regions for three years, if not longer,” Radler said. “The challenge now is to make sure that children who were affected by the tsunami don’t have to go to work at an early age to survive. We’re trying to ensure the same educational opportunities are there for them that were there before the tsunami.”

Both organizations’ representatives said donations for the region did not increase markedly following the March 28 Nias quake, and both did not feel that their organizations’ activities were changed because of it.

“The second (quake) did not affect what we were doing, because it mainly affected people on Nias Island, and we weren’t working there, so we continued with what we were doing,” Radler said.

Most of the donations made toward the region were made during the first few weeks following the tsunami, Radler said.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, a French-based co-op of doctors from all over the world who travel to disaster sites to provide medical care for those without access, notes on its website that donations earmarked for the tsunami have actually exceeded the operation costs of the organization in the region. The organization has begun to ask that donations not be earmarked for the tsunami disaster.

Donations that are not earmarked can be used to fund other projects in other parts of the world and, according to Kevin Phelan, senior press officer at MSF, some of these donations will be directed to victims of the Nias quake.

“We maintain an Emergency Response Fund which helps MSF keep flexibility and independence, so we can respond to a situation based on needs we encounter,” Phelan said. “We have been contacting donors who provided a gift for our response to the tsunami asking to de-restrict into the general fund. This process continues, so any operational response to the second earthquake would fit this bill.”

According to UNICEF’s website, the situation in Nias is dire, with lack of access to medical care, disastrous damage to infrastructure, and shortages of clean drinking water and food growing dangerous.

The main airport on Nias, for example, was destroyed by the quake, creating a major obstacle for shipment.

“The first thing we do is make sure people have clean water, medicine, and general medical supplies,” said Erica Kochi, press officer for UNICEF. “We brought in a water treatment tank, and we’re installing a second unit in the south (of Nias). We are trying to bring food in, but the destroyed airport is making that very hard.”

The World Health Organization sent an assessment team to the region immediately after the quake, and is working in conjunction with the Indonesian government, sending medical kits and supplies. Aid is arriving from various NGOs, such as Oxfam International and governments in countries including Singapore, Malaysia, the United States and Australia.

“We have local partners already on the ground, so we’re continuing to work with them,” said Caroline Green, spokesperson for Oxfam International. Green said Oxfam has been sending a steady stream of supplies by boat and helicopter, and also has chartered helicopters to evacuate the injured to hospitals on neighboring islands. “Mainly, our focus is on water and sanitation work. We are supplying boats and trucks (to bring in supplies).”

Oxfam is shipping in diesel fuel that runs water pumps, which currently provides approximately 10,000 people with clean drinking water. This number will reach 20,000 in a matter of days, according to an April 1 press release. Trucks and boats supplied by Oxfam are also bringing in medical supplies, food, sanitation supplies, blankets, and clothing for the quake

“The whole region was obviously devastated three months ago, but we already had a huge presence in Aceh, and we had presence on Nias before the most recent earthquake, so we were in a good position to deliver supplies,” Kochi said. “However, two terrible earthquakes is a big challenge.”