“It’s not that we’ve had a tsunami – it’s not just that we have had an earthquake too. It’s the liquefaction and the mudslides too. It’s unprecedented.”
That’s my colleague Chalid, after I asked him what he’d most like the rest of the world to understand about Indonesia right now. I’m here with him and other colleagues, witnessing the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami.
And if you’re wondering what ‘liquefaction’ is – you’re not alone. I didn’t have a clue until I arrived in Jakarta.
Liquefaction is the grim process by which the force of an earthquake churns soil into liquid – swallowing whole buildings, homes and people. Here in Indonesia, it’s meant that whole villages have been swallowed up by the earth.
The scale of human loss here is hard to fathom. ActionAid’s Fransisca ‘Iko’ Fitri says: “We’re all in shock – devastated. This is one of the biggest earthquakes our country has suffered.”
A locally-led recovery effort is putting in a superhuman effort – powered mostly by incredible women. The circumstances of carrying out the recovery are, to put it mildly, very difficult right now. Aftershocks continue, thousands of people are missing, and the official death toll has risen to over 2,000. Many fear the real figure is much higher.
At this point, the immediate needs of the survivors are still paramount – things like search and rescue to find survivors, and providing people with a place to sleep, clean water, and food. The local coalition that we are part of at ActionAid – known here as YAPPIKA‐ActionAid – has been doing everything we can, along with other charities that are members of the Disasters Emergency Committee.
I’ve witnessed a truly amazing volunteer effort. I’ve heard of residents in Pipikoro, a region near to the centre of the country, walking for hours over mountain landslides and broken roads to bring rice and other aid to villagers in Palu, the worst hit area. Then there’s Lian Gogali, an amazing woman who is running a kitchen with the help of ActionAid and a wider coalition. The kitchen has been producing nearly 5,000 meals a day, it has allowed Lian and other women to bring their vital skills, resources and experience to the recovery effort.
So far, the British public has raised some £13.5million to help. It’s an incredible feat of generosity. Today, the needs are greater than ever – but soon, attention will need to be paid to the long term, and the support that the survivors will need over the coming weeks and months.
At ActionAid we know from experience that when an emergency hits, it’s often women and girls that are most vulnerable. The risks of violence against women and girls rises. And often, women are shut out the relief effort – even though they play a central role in their communities, and understand the needs of other women and children better than anyone.
At ActionAid we think this is wrong – women need to be at the centre of the recovery effort, because women know how to deliver. That’s why we’ve encouraged survivors, many of whom are volunteering to support the relief effort, to start thinking about the future. Here in Jakarta, I’ve seen so many women leading efforts to help people. It’s helping to create a shift in the existing power imbalance here – and it’s preventing more inequality from taking hold.
With women leaders coming together to help communities recover quicker, many are beginning to think about the future. Our relief efforts so far have prioritised urgent needs – the delivery of food, water, formula milk, diapers, and sanitary kits for women and girls. But there needs to be more long term solutions in place. ActionAid will be here for the long haul, working with women and girls to help them rebuild and support their communities. But they need your help too.
Jean McLean is ActionAid UK’s deputy director for campaigns, media and public engagement. To donate to ActionAid’s relief effort in Indonesia, visit here