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UNICEF delivers a life-saving wedding gift in the aftermath of Indonesia’s earthquake

2009-10-12

TANJUNGSARI, West Sumatra Province, 13 October, 2009 — The children and families in the Agam district of Indonesia’s West Sumatra experienced not one massive natural disaster last week but three successive blows.

First, on 30 September, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter-scale destroyed most of the houses at the small hamlet nestled in the mountainous surroundings of Maninjau Lake.  Then, an aftershock caused the limestone cliffs to cave in. Later, several nights of torrential rain triggered a landslide burying the remaining rubble in a deluge of mud.

Nearly 2,000 people were forced to seek shelter at a nearby town market and in a traditional West Sumatran communal house decorated with bright carvings and a striking buffalo-horn shaped roof. Many of the men stayed behind to guard their homestead here in the village, which is accessible only by motor bikes as much of the road is blocked by huge boulders and 1.5-metre high mud dunes.

Today, the quake survivors received some of the 40,000 hygiene kits being rushed by UNICEF to the  province – each containing soap,  detergent, toothbrush, tooth paste, towels and buckets, and all vital to staving off disease.

When a bucket becomes an important wedding present

© UNICEF Indonesia/2009/Lely Djuhari
Watched by a smiling distribution helper, newly-wed Mirna Majid shows the contents a simple UNICEF hygiene kit consisting of soap, detergent, toothbrush, towels and a bucket in Agam district, West Sumatra Province, Indonesia.

Marni Majid, 52, saw her 20 year-old daughter Mirna get married three days after the quake at the village communal house - but without her father who had to stay in Tanjungsari and without “even sugar in the jasmine tea”.

 “Now, this bucket with soap and detergent feel like luxury wedding presents for our family. We need them badly,” she said.

Lack of sanitation facilities has sparked concerns of a possible outbreak of diseases.  UNICEF is working with the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to distribute the hygiene kits to areas around the Agam district.

Currently, there is no shortage of aid supplies, but challenges remain with regards to distribution, particularly in areas where roads and communication systems remain destroyed or badly damaged. Bad weather, expected to continue for the next few days, is also hampering distribution efforts and triggering concerns for more landslides.

At the market, built in the 1930s, women gathered round to speak about what time they will take their daily bath. Currently, they are using the 100km2 volcanic lake as a source of water. They have requested a water bladder to be put in place to ease storage and water purification tablets. These too are being brought in West Sumatra by UNICEF, as quickly as road access allows.

Rushing supplies to the heart of the quake zone

To date, just fewer than 3,000 hygiene kits and a similar number of jerry cans have been handed over to the province’s Ministry of Public Works, while 24 water bladders have been handed over to the government water company and to a hospital in the provincial capital of Padang. There have been no reports of a rise in communicable diseases so far, underlining the importance of such a rapid response to safeguard water supplies.

UNICEF is preparing leaflets and poster to remind people who once lived in isolated villages how to improve their hygiene habits. They contain basic information such as boiling water for consumption and the importance of washing hands. Even simple actions can save lives in the aftermath of a disaster such as that which struck the Indonesia region.

© UNICEF Indonesia/2009/Lely Djuhari
Marni Majid walks past boxes of hygiene kits now being distributed in Sungai Batang, in the Indonesia province of West Sumatra.

“This small improvement not only demonstrates to affected people that basic services are being prioritised in the relief effort, but also protects them from any potential outbreaks of water-borne disease,” said Claire Quillet, UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist who is assisting the emergency response from Padang.

So while Mima Majid may not have been expecting a plastic bucket as a wedding gift, the chance of avoiding sickness and possible death in the days after the West Sumatra earthquake may, over time, prove to be the best possible start to her married life.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.