Indonesian families have a long road to recovery

Tim Costello on why we must help the victims of the Palu tsunami

Pastor Jeffry Sulu with the woman he saved outside a damaged church in Palu

PHOTO: World Vision

By Tim Costello


The once vibrant, tropical city of Palu in Indonesia is now synonymous with rubble, collapsed buildings, cracked roads and tsunami waves. Life in the busy city is slowly recovering from last month’s triple disaster – a series of tsunamis, triggered by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake. Entire neighbourhoods were either swallowed by ground that liquefied and became like quicksand, or crushed by the tremendous force of water. Palu’s shoreline, struck by waves racing at speeds up to 800 km/h, was forever altered, as were lives. And now, a new crisis is emerging.

Rotting corpses under the rubble are creating huge concerns. Authorities have reportedly dropped disinfectant on areas and dug mass graves in efforts to stave off disease-carrying insects and rats. Humanitarian agencies, like World Vision and our local partner Wahana Visi Indonesia, are increasingly worried about the approaching monsoon season and the additional health risks it poses.

More than 200,000 people are displaced, many camped outdoors in shelters made of plastic tarp, sleeping on dirt. There’s an urgent need to improve living conditions. The soil’s soft, saturated condition means areas are more prone to landslide. Garbage is piling up.

We’re providing shelter and hygiene kits, clean water and teaching children safe hygiene practices to address these issues. In the meantime, we’re trying to track down hundreds of missing sponsor children loved by Australians.

The poorest people are most vulnerable in the aftermath of disasters like this. Even innocent children get caught in the long-term consequences.

When I was in Palu I heard incredible tales of survival. I met Pastor Jeffry Sulu outside a damaged church in Palu. He told me of how he raced to save an elderly woman as the church was crumbling and the ground rumbled beneath their feet.

His brave actions in that terrifying moment saved her. Tragically, he later discovered his own 69-year-old mother, Else, who was washing dishes in the kitchen, died from injuries sustained during the earthquake. The elderly woman he saved, Marce Tarandung, was now quiet, too scared to stand close to the building. She, along with the children in the community, are the most traumatised, he told me.

When disaster strikes, it knows no boundaries, and no discrimination for children or the elderly. After more than 15 years working in the aid sector, I still struggle to grapple with how nature can so swiftly disrupt and destroy.

Such scenes reminded me of the Boxing Day tsunami one of the worst-hit areas, Banda Ache. I hope I’ll never witness anything in my lifetime will the damage inflicted on 18 countries in 2004, in which more than 220,000 lives were lost. For me, Palu had shades of Banda Ache.

Australians are incredibly generous when disaster strikes our closest neighbour time and time again. Our actions speak louder than any words from Government ministers who argue to cut foreign aid or promote draconian policies that keep asylum seekers in offshore detention.

The death toll in Sulawesi officially sits at more than 2,200, but NGOs fear it could be as high as 12,000. Time will tell, and no doubt there’ll be many cases where we never know what happened.

As time moves on, I hope that people don’t forget the road to recovery is far from over. As people rebuild their lives new challenges are bound to arise, and they need our help.

To support the on-going recovery, visit https://www.worldvision.com.au/global-issues/world-emergencies/indonesia-earthquake-and-tsunami