After the disaster in Sulawesi

My name is Ridwan Gustiana, but do call me Doc Jack. I’m a Health Specialist with UNICEF Pacific, on mission in Sulawesi.

I’m the team leader for UNICEF’s response in Central Sulawesi and I am also the Emergency Health Specialist supporting health initiatives.

In the wake of this disaster, and thanks to the efforts of the Government, UNICEF and partners, there has been much improvement over the past month. Together, and with the communities themselves, we have helped provide water, sanitation and hygiene services and supplies to children and families. Children are gradually going back to school, thanks to the recent arrival of tents and classroom equipment, and we’re ensuring that children in need are protected from diseases such as malaria thanks to mosquito nets.

However, we must remember that this disaster is severe and complex. Central Sulawesi was impacted by three different disasters on 28 September 2018.

A young man plays a small guitar in a tent with children
© UNICEF/VeskaChildren affected by the earthquake and tsunami play with a UNICEF-supported Psychological Support Team in the Joint Secretariat for the Protection of Post-Earthquake and Tsunami Children tent in the courtyard of the Social Service of Palu Province, Central Sulawesi.

Coastal areas were affected by the tsunami. Many were swept away and people had to run to higher ground, leaving what was left of their homes. Four areas in Central Sulawesi were affected by earthquake liquefaction, which swallowed entire homes and neighbourhoods. The earthquake itself destroyed many homes and schools. Large numbers of people are now displaced. There are currently around 212,000 people displaced in the four affected areas – Palu, Donggala, Sigi and Parigi. Some areas, such as Palu, are getting back to some semblance of normalcy. But in other areas, such as Donggala and Sigi, there are many displaced still living in tents who need help.

In Central Sulawesi, UNICEF is supporting the Government’s response, led by the national disaster agency and other ministries. UNICEF staff is helping with labor and supplies in several areas that are crucial for children: water, sanitation, nutrition, education and protection.

We work directly with the Ministry of Health to protect children from diseases, support vaccination efforts, and give children and families bed nets to protect them against malaria.

With more than 1,500 schools damaged, we brought hundreds of tents for what we call “temporary learning spaces,” as well as “School-in-a-Box” and recreational kits, to help children get back to school.

In terms of nutrition, we give guidance and support to mothers on breastfeeding and child-feeding. Children suffering from severe acute malnutrition are also identified and treated at health centres.

UNICEF and partners also provide psychosocial support and services for affected children.

Children in a tent watching an adult, in a colorful sea of sleeping bags.
UNICEF/VeskaThe UNICEF-supported Psychological Support Team in the play with children in the courtyard of the Social Service of Palu Province, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

In the coming months, UNICEF will continue its response with the Government and partners to ensure that children and families who have been affected and displaced receive aid and support. However, helping children recover from their horrific experience and supporting communities to build back better, will be a longer-term approach.

Children and families have been severely affected by what they’ve experienced. Many villages disappeared due to earthquake liquefaction, a process in which the earthquake shook up and “liquified” saturated earth beneath the city of Palu, causing it to flow like water. Children have lost their parents, family members, homes and neighbourhoods. Their world has been shattered. Many loved ones are missing, who will probably never be found. Some areas are still inaccessible.

Such a loss is shocking for any child. A child who experiences this would need support to cope and recover.

I visited an affected family and spoke to a mother who lost a child to liquefaction. She is in deep shock, understandably. In her own words as she recounted the tragic story – the ground moved, buildings sunk into the soil, and her child was gone.

The aftershocks are also scary for children and adults as well. Many are afraid to enter buildings or structures for fear it will collapse.

Thankfully, UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Affairs were also able to reunite several children with their families and guardians. The family reunification and tracing process makes a big difference in the life of a child who has been reunited with a loved one. My colleagues recount to me how emotional the experience has been for everyone involved whenever a child was successfully traced and reunited.

UNICEF has launched an appeal of USD 26.6. million to continue our response for the next few months, not just in Central Sulawesi, but also for our ongoing work in Lombok after the earthquakes. We thank donors for their generosity in helping us save the lives of affected children. However, a lot more needs to be done. Children and families will need committed, sustained support to rebuild their lives for the better, and UNICEF will continue to be here for children in need.

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