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Indonesia: Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami

Contamination widespread, one week after Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami, fears of looming health crisis
06 October 2018

Save the Children is warning of an impending health crisis unless clean water supplies can be established and emergency latrines built, following the earthquake and tsunami that struck central Sulawesi exactly one week ago. 

Water and sanitation specialists working with Save the Children’s partner on the ground have reported widespread damage to toilets, pipes and bathing facilities with a water grid completely destroyed and sewage on the streets.  

“In and around Palu the network of water pipes has been smashed to pieces. Toilets have been destroyed. Treatment facilities are broken, meaning there’s no way to treat human waste. Water taken from local sources is often brown and filled with sediments, which is incredibly dangerous for human consumption,” said Andi Dyah, a water and sanitation specialist with Save the Children’s partner. Mr Dyah is originally from Sulawesi and is en route to Palu, the epicenter of the crisis. 

“We’re seeing more and more people reporting cases of diarrhea, with growing concern of an outbreak. This is incredibly worrying for children, who are more likely to succumb to dehydration or malnutrition because of diarrhea. With open defecation the only option for many families, we have a health crisis waiting in the wings.”

Water contamination is among the most critical issues facing those hardest hit by the disaster, which also caused major damage to dozens of health facilities, and other public facilities in the area, warns Save the Children, which operates through its local partner Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik (YSTC) in Indonesia.

“If consistent supplies of clean drinking water can’t be established quickly, we’re going to see a significant increase in cases of diarrhea in the coming days and weeks, as well as other illnesses like water borne diseases,” Mr Dyah said.

Among those at risk is Wati* and her daughter Desi*,7, who are staying in one of the temporary shelters for people displaced by the crisis. Wati told YSTC staff that her daughter hadn’t brushed her teeth for two days, due to the lack of clean water. 

“All of our toiletries were left in our house and we are afraid to try and get them because the house could collapse. I haven’t brushed my teeth for few days now,” she said. 

In response to the crisis, Save the Children, through YSTC, has already distributed 265 number of hygiene kits to families benefiting 1,060 people. The aid agency is also deploying a team of technical water and hygiene specialists to Palu in the coming days, who will set up a water trucking system to get clean water to families who urgently need it in areas that can be accessed by road. It will also start distributing water purification kits, building temporary latrines for people displaced by the disaster, and will soon deploy health specialists to provide further support to teams on the ground to contain the potential health crisis. 

“Being from Sulawesi myself, it’s hard to believe what has happened. It breaks my heart to see so many people suffering. It’s going to take a long time to recover. For me personally it means so much to be here as part of the humanitarian response,” Mr Dyah said.

Save the Children has been working in Indonesia since 1976, and has a long history responding to humanitarian disasters in the country, including the recent earthquakes in Lombok and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

*Names changed

For interviews, call Jess Brennan on 0421 334 918

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