Indonesia: Homes, food, water still top priorities six months after the Lombok earthquakes

Photos by: Rosemarie North and Surya Kusuma/IFRC

This is a disaster displacement crisis unlike many others. Six months after a series of deadly earthquakes, with the worst on 5 August 2018, nearly half a million people in west, north and east Lombok are staying in small shelters they have cobbled together from plastic, tarpaulins or materials salvaged from their nearby damaged or destroyed houses.

The Indonesian Red Cross has boosted the safety, security and dignity of 37,300 people (9,325 households) by distributing emergency shelter materials and cash, and helping to build emergency shelters.

On this morning, it is starting to spit as the Indonesian Red Cross or Palang Merah Indonesia reaches Guntur Macan village, only a short drive west of Lombok’s capital, Mataran. Gentle rain falls on new corrugated iron roofing, taught plastic sheeting and on dusty piles of rubble. Around are signs of destruction and renewal. Beyond, giant trees.

Staff and volunteers carry in big bundles of cotton bundles.

Under the thatched roof of a wooden platform, Palang Merah distribution coordinator Rusmedi (Medi) Efendi is looking through lists of names and piles of plastic-wrapped black and white striped cotton blankets.

Women and children gather. Men are in the fields, tending rice, long beans or fruit. Or in town at their jobs.

Since 5 August, when a magnitude 7 earthquake destroyed her house, Darmawati, who goes by one name and is known as Dem, and other members of her family including son, Alfan, 3, have lived in a shelter built with help from the Indonesian Red Cross. On this day, each family received two blankets.

“The biggest challenge is when it rains because the Red Cross shelter is leaking. In the daytime it’s very hot. We need a proper home.

“After the earthquake, we needed help. We’re grateful for the assistance including the help putting up the shelter. We’ll use the blanket at night to keep warm, and put it on the floor as a mat.”

Suniah, who goes by one name, and her family just ran. They stayed on their farmland for one or two months, she says, returning home only to pick up school uniforms for their sons, 13 and 14. Other family members are her husband, their son and his wife, and a three-year-old grandson.

The tarpaulin “has been really helpful. During the earthquake, we just ran into the fields. We set up the tarpaulin as a roof there. Now we’ve moved back home, we are using the tarpaulin to cover the durian fruit to protect it from the sun.”

She’s still nervous because there were so many aftershocks but, “Life must go on”.

Sapirah, a widow, is resting on a shaded platform or gazebo. “I need a house. I want to have my own house again. It’s not comfortable to live and sleep like this.”

Near her are bare foundations, all that remains of the house she shared with her son and daughter, and their spouses. Now she sleeps in the kitchen, a little house whose blackened walls hold a fire place, piles of cassava, pots and pans. There are holes in the roof where the tiles have rattled or blown off. Her son lives nearby with his wife in a tarpaulin shacks; her daughter in another with her husband.

Today’s distribution is of two blankets for each household but hers is split in three. We promise to pass this dilemma on to PMI.

“I’m happy because my son and daughter are here. But we need a house. We need to live together again.

Before the earthquake, her son lived elsewhere but Sapirah was so worried about him that he promised to move home.

“The Red Cross has been good at giving us information. They helped us build the temporary shelter too. I really liked their health service. At the beginning they came two or three times a week and I could get help for my blood pressure. At one time, the aftershocks scared me so much that I fainted.”

A villager who asked not to be named said his family was in great debt. Several years ago, they’d borrowed money to pay an employment agent to send a family member overseas for work, and to help the family.

“But right now, the man who lent me money will take my land if I can’t repay it. Even worse, the debt was 10 million Indonesian rupiah (about 715 US dollars) but it’s increased to 15 million. The land will not be my land any more.

“This is common here in Lombok. We’d have to leave our land and rent a house somewhere.

“If someone can help us, we’d be thankful for that. If there’s no help coming, we have to go.”

The family has been able to save 7.5 million by saving small amounts at a time, for example when a worker gets a small tip of 25,000 or 50,000 at work. But it’s not enough.

But there’s no point getting help for a sturdier shelter if they lose their land, they say.

The earthquakes have affected the most crucial areas of people’s lives, including water for drinking and irrigation. Water sources and systems have been destroyed or contaminated, and rivers have dried up. Many people are forced to ration drinking or cooking water, and some families depending on water-intensive crops like rice have lost their only or main source of income. So far, the Indonesian Red Cross has distributed more than 23 million liters of safe water and fixed more than 43 kilometers of water pipeline. But six months, on many people are still reliant on trucked water. Much remains to be done.

In Gudang Garam village, North Lombok, Muhsin fills a water bottle at a stand twice a day. This will meet the drinking needs of his family of five and to supply his restaurant, where he serves chicken, rice and coffee. His house has collapsed and, to save funds, he prefers to take this water, where the Red Cross also fills up its water tank, than to pay for water.

Selelos village, Gangga sub-district, North Lombok, Indonesia, 22 January 2019. On 29 July 2018, the first of a series of destructive earthquakes struck the province of Lombok, killing 510, injuring 7,100 and displacing an estimated 430,000. People in Selelos told the Red Cross that every building in the village, high in the hills, was destroyed except for one shop. Since then, people have used their own resources to build emergency shelters.

Wearing a blue scarf, Hami, 25, who goes by one name, says: “When the earthquake came, we thought it would be small, like previous ones, so we stayed in our shop. But the electricity went out and the shaking was so bad that we couldn’t even stand. We ran into the road.

“Our house collapsed. For the next three months we lived under plastic in a field but we couldn’t stand the head any longer. So we used material salvaged from the house to create walls around this beruga (a small, roofed wooden platform seen in front of houses).”

Hami lives with her sister Ibu Atin and their parents Bapak Sobir and Ibu Sukisah. Another relative, Pak Miliyadi, lives nearby. In front of their house is a pile of sand for making cement to rebuild.

“Now our greatest need is food. We used to have food from the garden and from farming. Now we can’t grow much because of the water shortage. At this time of year we should be harvesting five tonnes of rice. But the river has dried up since the earthquake.

“The earthquake also destroyed a water system that our village set up to bring drinking water to about 300 houses. If water comes out of those taps, it’s not clean. Most mostly the taps are dry. About 1,500 people here depend on water trucking from the Red Cross.

“I earn a little by working part time as an Arabic teacher at a madrassa. I earn IDN 7,500 an hour (about USD 0.53) and work two or three hours a day, five days a week. I get paid twice a year. Then, if we have fruit, like durian, I promote it on my Facebook page. When we have money, we buy other things like scarves and sell them online too.

“Otherwise, it’s living from day to day.”


This operation is made possible with support from the following donors and partners:

American Red Cross, Australian Red Cross, Austrian Red Cross, Belgian Red Cross, British Red Cross, Canadian Red Cross, Czech Red Cross, Danish Red Cross, Finnish Red Cross, Hong Kong branch of Red Cross Society of China, Italian Red Cross, Japanese Red Cross Society, Liechtenstein Red Cross, Netherlands Red Cross, Spanish Red Cross, Swedish Red Cross, Swiss Red Cross, Red Cross of Monaco, IFRC at the UN Inc.

Private donors in Ireland, Netherlands, the United States.

European Commission (DG ECHO), Grab-GP Network Asia PTE LTD, Intercontinental Hotels Groups, IKEA Foundation, OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), The Coca-Cola Foundation, Tides Foundation.

Government of: Australia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland.