Rebuilding Palu: Update on Our Disaster Relief in Indonesia

Safe water in Sulawesi, Indonesia

The recovery of Indonesia’s Sulawesi island has slipped out of the news in the last few months. After all, the hard work of grieving loss and piecing life back together doesn’t make many headlines.

But that work goes on, even if it doesn’t capture international attention. More than two million people in Indonesia were personally affected by the twin tragedies that struck near the city of Palu on September 28, losing loved ones, houses, schools, and jobs to the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and resulting tsunami.

Thanks to you, they don’t have to rebuild alone.

Water Mission began mobilizing within hours of the disasters, and we plan on staying for several more months.

P&G Purifier of Water tablets for use in the disasters' immediate aftermath
P&G Purifier of Water tablets for use in the disasters’ immediate aftermath

Your generosity — along with the support of the Poul Due Jensen Foundation, ADRA, Grundfos, P&G, and FedEx — enabled us to immediately deploy staff and shipping equipment. And your generosity is helping us to continue our work in the region.

Disaster relief shipments to Indonesia, thanks to FedEx
Disaster relief shipments to Indonesia, thanks to FedEx

When we first arrived, much of the island was decimated.

“There were bizarre sights dotted all over the city,” Craig Williams, our disaster response coordinator and strategic partnerships manager, told us from the field. Buildings were flattened like cardboard, shipping containers dotted the landscape, and boats had been plucked from the ocean and dropped in the middle of roads. On the east side of Palu, almost nothing was left standing.

Devastation in Sulawesi, Indonesia
Devastation following the disasters

“It’s sad and also very humbling when you see firsthand the effects of this force,” Craig said.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, simply reaching the survivors was a challenge. The local airport was closed for a time, and the shipping port was damaged. We ended up flying most of our equipment to the south side of Sulawesi and driving it for more than 24 hours around a mountain range to reach the disaster zones. When the roads were too damaged to drive, we hiked or used helicopters to reach cut-off communities.

Driving equipment to areas in need
Driving equipment to areas in need

At that time, “There was access to fresh water sources, but they were untreated,” Sean McSwain, Water Mission’s director of partnership support, explained. “People relied on boiling their water. Waterborne illnesses were an immediate hazard and risk to the population.”

Because Water Mission had an established presence and country program in Indonesia, we were one of a few organizations invited to contribute to the local disaster relief initiatives. Since September, we have installed long-term, sustainable safe water systems in 14 communities, and we are currently working in six more. For those residents, the access to safe water is a small taste of normalcy and one less thing to worry about as they continue to rebuild.

Children drinking safe water

As the need for immediate relief fades, we have been transitioning to a long-term, community-oriented approach to delivering safe water. This allows us to collaborate with community members as we design and install water treatment solutions, provide health and hygiene information, and empower them to independently manage their systems.

Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) training
Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) training

A few days ago, the Central Sulawesi administration announced that it would take at least three years to rehabilitate the island and rejuvenate its economy. It’s only been five months since the disasters struck, and there’s still much work to be done.

Children drinking safe water

Many people are still living in displacement camps, which we continue to serve with safe water. As farming and fishing are two popular occupations on the island, those who are still displaced are eager to return home and begin rebuilding so they can get back to work.

The people of Palu are moving forward with resilience and courage in the face of unimaginable loss. We’re honored to work alongside them as they restore their communities.

Children drinking safe water

HELP US BE PREPARED to provide safe water to those in need. When you support Water Mission, you enable us to respond quickly to crises and invest in communities for the long-term future.

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