from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
More than five months after the March 28, 2005 earthquake laid waste to much of the island of Nias's urban areas, many residents of Gunung Sitoli, Manrehe and Sirombu are still living in tents in front of their homes, or in fields or mountainsides in cities and towns. People are still afraid, as aftershocks measuring up to 6.4 on the Richter scale continue to occur.
When staff of the Action by Churches Together (ACT) Internataional coordination office in Medan recently visited the island (July 14), two small earthquakes rocked Sirombu, 76 kilometers south of the capital Gunung Sitoli.
"Every time an earthquake like this happens, people imagine that there will be a larger earthquake and a tsunami. At night our whole family flees to the mountains with all the other families and sleeps in a tent because we are scared another earthquake will happen such as the last one," said A. Rizka Harefa, a resident and small business entrepreneur of Gunung Sitoli.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and ACT members in Indonesia, Yayasan Emergency Unit (YEU) and Yayasan Tanggul Bencana di Indonesia (YTBI), have continued to assist the residents of Nias since the island was struck by the tsunami in December 2004. Funds for this support were taken from the generous response by Presbyterians to the tsunami disaster.
Photos and text are by Jannerson Girsang, ACT International (Medan)
Four months after an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.7 (Richter Scale) struck Nias Island, cleanup operations in Gunung Sitoli city are almost complete. However, debris and ruins can still be seen in many places. Even though economic activity has resumed, fears of aftershocks still affect many of the 900,000 residents on the island. The event still haunts many. Gunung Sitoli, the capital of Nias District, with 27,000 inhabitants, was the worst hit, with 400 people killed and 400 others injured.
In some places, the clearing of debris is being done manually, using sledgehammers. The government announced the end of emergency status in Nias at the end of May. Many people are waiting for the government's "Master Plan" to rebuild the island, which is scheduled for release at the end of August, according to Willy Syahbandar, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency Branch Office in Nias.
The gasoline crisis currently experienced throughout Indonesia has also had an impact on Nias the past few weeks. The only gas station in Gunung Sitoli is swamped with long lines of vehicles every day. "The price of gas now has reached 8,000 to 10,000 Rupiah (80 cents to $1.10 US) per liter and even then it is not always available," says Buyung Gulo, a bus driver on the Gunung Sitoli to Sirombu route. Normally, the price of gas is 2,400 Rupiah (20 cents US).
Small stores selling essential goods and offering services (car repairs for instance) have started popping up all over. The food market is once again operating normally, with all the basic foodstuffs available. Ali Hia (20), a fishmonger at one of the markets in Gunung Sitoli, sells fish caught by local fishermen. "Finally we are able to run businesses and support our family's economic situation," said Ali.
The town of Sirombu, located on a beautiful shoreline along the western coast of Nias, now lies deserted. Hundreds of towns and shops that once constituted economic centers of Nias have been abandoned by residents after the March earthquake. Many people have fled to Tetesua, a town that is some three kilometers from Sirombu. Tetesua now has hundreds of new residents living in tents or in temporary shelters along the side of the road. Others have built dwellings in places farther inland from Sirombu.
What do people do and need for recovery?
The earthquake that brought about the destruction of people's houses, in an ironic twist, has provided alternative forms of employment for people who lost their jobs as a result of the quake. For Ahmad Zebua (40), gathering iron scraps from the rubble provides a good source of income to support his family. "We need work, not just handouts," said Mr. Zebua. ACT member YEU is currently assisting Mr. Zebua and his family by providing them free health services. "In these conditions, there is no way we could pay the costs of a hospital," Mr. Zebua explained.
Mrs. Zebua (50) and her two daughters carry loads of sweet potato leaves they use as fodder for their pigs. The walk to the sweet potato field is about two kilometers from their home. "There is fear of more earthquakes, but we have to continue being active in order to survive," says Mrs. Zebua.
Nurmina Zebua (45), a resident of Mandula (a sub-district of Gunung Sitoli), said that she and her family have been receiving assistance in the form of rice, canned fish, cooking oil and cooking utensils from ACT member Church World Service (CWS). Nurmina used to run a small business, employing three seam-stresses. "Presently, there are no orders being placed for tailor-made clothing, because people are focusing on filling their needs for food," she said. Now Mrs. Zebua hopes to develop a livestock project she has started with her pigs, in an effort to support her family by meeting daily needs and paying school fees for her two children who are still in elementary school.
On the road between Gunung Sitoli and Sirombu, Waty Waruwu (14) and his friends walk home from school after their first day at public middle school in the district of Hilidaho. "We hope there won't be any more earthquakes so that we can study well," he said. Waty and his friends are lucky, as their school suffered only minor damage during the earthquake. Many schools were destroyed, however, and many young people on the island now go to school in tents or outside, if no tents are available.
The congregation of the Nias Protestant Christian Church (Banua Niha Keriso Protestant) of Vabaliwa in the district of Sirombu is an example of people's need to restore their community.
"Building a church where we can have services has become a high priority after several months of having services first in tents and then in a very small building," explained Yaveti Waruwu, one of the elders of the congregation. The church has 720 members who have all, in their own way, helped build their new temporary building that will allow members of the congregation to join in the services. "Together, the congregation collected funds and materials to build this church, so that we could have a service," said Mr. Waruwu, adding that lack of funds means that the roof will be made from sago palm leaves that can be gathered in the immediate area. The construction work is happening because of community participation. "We are only paying five carpenters. All the remaining work is done by volunteers," he said.
Alina Hia (far left) has already built a new house near Baru Village in Sirombu. The house is made of wood and sago palm leaves. Along with other beneficiaries, Mrs. Hia received a blanket and kitchen equipment from CWS, through the support of ACT members around the world. "My husband got the building materials from around this area, and we did the construction with the help of other families in the area," Mrs. Hia said. The house does not have electricity or running water yet, and the family bathes in a creek behind the house. She has started a small tailoring business in her modest home.
Kudusin Lase is a fisherman who received money from the revolving fund of ACT member YEU.
With an small interest-free loan, Mr. Lase was able to buy four nets for his small fishing business. From the proceeds of his fishing , he is sure he will be able to repay the loan, while at the same time helping his parents and two younger sisters. "I give thanks to God that YEU provided the interest-free loan so that I can work and help with my family's expenses," said Mr. Lase, who survived both the tsunami and the recent earthquake, although it meant abandoning their old home and building a temporary shelter in another area. He still hopes that at some point he and his family will be able to return to Sirombu, the town where he was born and raised. "But now we still are afraid to go back because there the people are still traumatized by the tsunami and earthquake," he said.
Dr. Lieke Koes Handayani, a doctor working with YEU in Gunung Sitoli, explained that the YEU medical clinic continues to provide health services to the survivors in the city. One of the patients, Nurmawati Zebua, said she was grateful for the clinic's services. "All of our family has received free medical services from YEU," said Mrs. Zebua, whose house was damaged by the earthquake. Two of her children's homes were also destroyed. Dr. Tuti Andriani, the coordinator of the YEU health post in Sirombu, said that YEU offers health services to tsunami and earthquake survivors, both at the post and through their mobile clinic. YEU has also started a revolving fund for fishermen and farmers in the Sirombu area. Child nutrition monitoring and water and sanitation projects also form part of YEU's response.
CWS has already built 100 bathrooms in Nias. They plan to build 1,000 more bathrooms in other towns in the area. The bathrooms already constructed serve some 2,000 people's bathing and drinking water needs. CWS is implementing the water and sanitation program with ACT member Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), which does the water purification testing for drinking water along with with the British agency, Oxfam. Previously, people bathed in a nearby stream or walked a long way to collect water from other organizations that were providing water in the area. CWS has plans for an integrated program to "Build a New Village" at the site of Mandula village in the district of Gunung Sitoli.
Three quarters of the homes in this village at the edge of the city of Gunung Sitoli were destroyed as a result of the earthquake. Leo Sambo, CWS Team Leader in Nias, described the plan. "CWS will assist in the repair of 134 homes that were destroyed, while also helping economic activity through the provision of small pigs for the residents to raise."
YTB, along with its local implementing partners, BPB Nias and Yayasan Handal Mahardika, continue to distribute non-food items in several villages, as well as run a health clinic in Sirombu. "For the next phase, we will offer economic improvement programs and housing construction to those who suffered from the disaster," said Octhavianus, YTB's program officer in Nias. During the emergency phase, YTB, through its implementing partners, distributed rice and tents to seven towns in Nias. Many people, when asked about their chances of recovery, responded with optimism, saying even if it takes a long time, they will recover. Aty Harefa (22), a tailor from Hiliduo Village said, "We still have good hopes for the future and now the economy is moving again."